A little piece about possibility—the short story of a starry night, a few broken curfews, a mischievous girl, a close-to-clueless boy, an untied shoelace, a pair of sweaty palms, and the long walk home.
His pickup ground to a reluctant stop in front of the quiet house, and, for just a moment, the night was still around them. The stars, slipping dust down through the cracked windows, spread out for ages beyond the windshield, miles and miles and miles to go, just enough dark light to live on. It certainly felt like summer, the strummed and steamy sort of night, the one where a dream tantalized just a little farther up the road, and just a little farther after that, culminating in a horizon touched with red and orange and pink, the dawn burning away the old magic in order to make more. It was the kind of night where things simply happened, and more things would keep happening, as long as he didn't fall asleep; those dreams could never compare in the morning. Even their colors couldn't contest it, these nights of charcoal and a breath of blue, broken up by the bright and sharp sliver of moon.
"Maybe the moon did it," he murmured, suddenly struck by it. He'd thought that the low radio would overpower his voice, but he was wrong; it wasn't loud enough, and the girl in his passenger's seat heard everything. "The moon must've maybe let the magic in through the slit in the sky."
"Are you certain it wasn't me?"
He glanced over at her, the long-legged girl with the farmer's tan and her high golden heels nestled in her lap; her profile was blue in the blackness, her hair fallen from its braid and tumbling around her freckled shoulders. She was in the dimness a girl of just edges and shadows and secrets kept in the crook of her mouth, teasing and tempting, the one remaining sun in the ungodly hour of the night in which they lingered so. Curfew had been over an hour ago, but she'd begged him to stay out a little longer, just a little bit, because she liked driving down the really busy streets once they were all dark and deserted, for it made her feel like they were the only people awake in the world and in this place where all these things happened, if anything did happened, all the stupid crazy wonderful things, it would happen for them. Possibilities, she'd said, and he thought it again now.
"No," he replied honestly, remembering that she'd asked him a question. She laughed. She liked him, she really did. The dimples and the sweet smile and the truck would have been enough, but what really cast the spell was this last admission. She liked how uncertain he was sometimes, like should he reach for her hand even if his was a little sweaty?—the answer was yes, by the way, but, to her secret dismay, he hadn't known was a little uncertain, she thought, finding the moon's twin in the curve of his grin and more wish-bearing stars scattered in the mischief of his eyes. Nobody really knew anything for sure. None of the important stuff, anyway, like God or aliens or if it was going to rain on her birthday next month–or if that sweet, dumb boy was planning on kissing her anytime soon.
He raised his eyebrows at her, and she remembered, suddenly, that they were talking, that his bow lips weren't just moving because she liked to watch them. "Did you?"
"Oh, honey," she told him, happy with the little mystery she'd made between them, "who do you think makes the magic in the first place?"
Now he was the one watching her mouth like a deaf man, scrabbling for purchase as she, pensive, bit her lower lip. The rose petal paled at the pressure, but what it was she was thinking he was, unsurprisingly, uncertain.
With this she opened the passenger door and unfolded long and lean from within the truck. She wrestled her hair from the mess of a braid with one busy hand and tossed it carelessly over her angel-wing shoulder blades so that it rippled down her narrow back.
"I had a good night," she told him, shutting the door again, softer this time, so as not to break anything that had sprouted between them.
"Me, too," he said.
She leaned in the open window, a catch-me-if-you-can kind of smile flashing fleeting white, just a little too far away for his liking.
"You going to walk me to the door, or what?"
"Uh, sure," he said, blinking and taken aback. Kicking open his own door, he endeavored to pick his slow but smiling way over to where she stood waiting on the sidewalk, her heels spinning slightly from where she held them loosely in one manicured hand, without tripping on his own untied shoelace. She reached out her free hand and, slipping one of his shyly from his pockets, he took it, just like he took her sinner's smile. This time, he didn't really give a damn if his palm was a tad sweaty.
She didn't care either, even if it was.
Instead of leading him up the walk of the sleepy house in front of him, however, she led him to the left and up the sidewalk, starting up the street and through the neighborhood in the direction from which they'd come in the truck. The pair's skins were a smooth, soft beige in the late-summer- late-night moonlight, and drippy columns of the crescent were draped long across them. Their tops of their shadows touched, just barely, at the angle, joined further down again by their hands.
"What are you doing?" he asked her, bemused. "You told me that the house by the stop sign was yours."
"I never said it was mine," she replied easily, and it occurred to him that the secret nestled in the corner of her lips might taste a bit like trouble. "I just told you to stop there. We passed my house two streets ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Her eyes met his. "I wanted you to walk me home."
He laughed then, mystified, marveling. "Well, it's a pleasure."
"Isn't it though?"
For a moment they walked in companionable silence, bathed in starlight, in a crooked line through her sleeping neighborhood.
Then, rather fondly, he said, "You're crazy."
"You're on." With only this warning she tugged him to the right, straight off the sidewalk, through the little stretch of grass, and into the street.
"What are you doing?" he asked for the second time, to which she replied, "Just trust", a wide-eyed actress in a black and white spectrum. Not even "Just trust me". No, she just asked him to fall into faith for the night and the long walk home. And so they walked on in the middle of the street, watching in case twin pinpricks of light appeared in the blackness ahead, his thumb rubbing soft circles on her hand, her nails seeking constellations across his skin.
"Why are we out here?" he wanted to ask, but wasn't sure that he should. He could almost feel the answer, winding long beneath his feet as they went, that feeling of happenings and heart and the possibilities she'd promised. They were dangerous and deserted and free and finding each other for the first time that wasn't time enough.
"Pretty good Saturday night," he remarked, quite aware that it was much more than that. Pretty, however, still had a lot to do with things.
"Technically," she said as her fingers found their way up to his wrist and tapped the face of his watch, the hands of it twisted in a right angle, "it's Sunday."
"You do realize you're one of the few guys our age who still wears a watch."
"And so our date's ruined for you now, is it?"
She laughed, moving so that she stood ahead of him as far as their bridging arms could reach, walking unworriedly backwards. "On the contrary."
"You are a contrary girl, I'm noticing."
"Says the boy who still wears a watch in spite of the century. Take a compliment."
"I might if you actually gave it to me."
She grinned, the contagious kind, graceful even on her narrow bare feet, pink-painted toes dancing ahead in a crooked row. "I just think it's admirable that you have the time, even if you don't always pay attention to it."
"Like now," she agreed. "And that you keep time, instead of time keeping you."
"Time keeping me?"
"You know," she said lightly, swaying their hands. "A life kept waiting. Everything hurried. Punctual. Perfect."
"You don't like perfect?" he wondered.
"Why do you think I like you?"
She stopped, and slowly, he neared her again, growing close enough for her playful smile to slit his throat; he was quite a bit taller than her now without her shoes, and suddenly the whole world felt so small, just the space between their profiles.
"What else don't you like?" he murmured, only the edges of the words turned up.
Her voice was made of glass. "To be kept waiting."
This is it, she was thinking, as his eyes shone bright in their stars, close enough for her to count their constellations. He's finally going to kiss me. Now.
At just that moment, though, the automatic porch light of the house they stood in front of blinked on at the motion. Startled and suddenly squinting, they stumbled apart, laughing nervously when they realized what had happened. She hoped the darkness, as it fell again, allowed only a shadow of her blush as she, embarrassed, brushed a tendril of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. All he could think about was wishing he could have brushed it back for her, felt on his fingertips the little warmth that clung to her skin the way the summer did.
"This is my street up here," was all she said, pointing to the quiet cul-de-sac winging off ahead. They started walking once more, and, without second guessing it, he took her hand again, lightly, like there was no other way to go now, and let himself be led.
In his opinion, the long walk home had been unjustly short.
Naturally she made him guess which house was hers, and to her surprised delight he got it correct on the first try—the white one with the flower-box window sills and the little porch and the light burning on in her top corner room, of course. She belonged there, he supposed, like something from a fairy tale, princess and devil and jester alike.
She wouldn't let go of his hand until they reached her porch, though, and even then it was reluctantly, and only after she'd pulled him closer, just the slightest stripe of starlight between them now. One last chance, one last happening, a stupid crazy wonderful tick in time. She put her lips close to his, so that, when he spoke, they almost touched, but not quite.
"What are you doing?" he asked for the third time, and the words were soft, a magic spell to match her.
She answered with a kiss, and the answer then was this:
The clumsiness at first, until they could fit the puzzle pieces together in the dark, reading like braille. Her hair run through his fingers once, fine and silk and smooth. Her chin cupped gently in his hand, tilted up as if to watch the stars, though now both their eyes were shut. The bump of her shoes resting on the flat of his back as she wound her arms around his neck, ensnaring. The little laugh she gave between breaths, the one he held deep in his lungs. The song she made of his heartbeat, loud enough to wake the neighborhood, echoing through the ever-shrinking space between the soft shadowy contours of their bodies, until there was none at all.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" he inquired after, a prayer and a promise all rolled into one.
There was one thing, at least, that he knew for certain now, and that thing was the taste of yes on her lips, just before she snuck the screen door shut between them, and her silhouette disappeared up the stairs.
"Good night," he whispered before she fell out of sight.
"Good night," she agreed, and the hem of her white sun dress rustled around the corner. Her head was full of happiness, and her soul was full of song. And later, as she'd watch his headlights fall through the night from her bedroom window until they vanished into the darkness hurtling towards dawn, her heart was full of home.
Possibilities—there was just one now, and the fall was longer even than their little walk, a piece of summer stranded, forever, in the shadows before daybreak.