The quiet noise, penetrated by the sound of the crackling fire, inspired her. The chair, slowly rocking to the beat of a hopeful heart, made her thoughts stand still. Like most girls her age, Mae asked a lot of deep rhetorical questions. The strategy of self-questioning was something she was all too familiar with. She understood the difference between the fine art of fairy tales and the otherwise inconsistent oblivious reality. She was aware that a happily ever after is not always possible. She knew that life doesn't always turn out the way you expect it to. She knew. But it doesn't mean she accepted it.
Truth be told, Mae wasn't your average teenage girl. She didn't have many friends, and those she used to have, never bothered to care. The imaginary friends she had when she was five years old were far better off. She was creatively introverted, a dreamer, always looking for that bright silver lining. So she created a world where everything's better and everything's safe, a wall made out of cushions, a bubble of beautiful colours. She isolated herself by pretending. By now she had learned the pretence lesson all too well. Yet deep down she knew things would change eventually. It was just a matter of time. She was naively optimistic, deeply acquainted with the half full glasses. She was patient. She didn't know how to be any other way. Somehow, she knew happiness would come looking for her too. She knew. She could feel it in her heart.
She just didn't expect it to find her so soon.
* * * * *
It was a colourful afternoon in March. Mae was home alone, beside the fireplace, rocking on her grandmother's carved wood chair. The silence, except for the heavy sighs every now and then, was deafening. The fire flames, her only source of warmth, were slowly dying out. Outside, the soft breeze was gently caressing the tall vibrant tree, teasing her as it does so. "At least they have each other", she thought, wiping the tear streaming down her face. True, she may have enjoyed the walk by the river the other day, but nature seems to lose its sense of wonder when you're in it, exploring it, taking it all in by yourself. Because the thing is, loneliness is an exhausting feeling, and no matter how hard you try to make yourself believe otherwise, you know it just is. You learn to live with it, and against all odds, you sit and hope for something better.
As for Mae, she breathed loneliness pretty much all her life, even when she was surrounded by people. And sitting there, in the living room by herself, only made these feelings escalate. The questions, the thoughts, they wore her out. She was always so tired, so sleepy. She needed thrill and excitement. She needed someone to have meaningful conversations with. She needed something to keep her mind off things. And that day, that beautiful colourful afternoon in March, she got exactly what she needed. The loud bell at the door ringing changed everything. It was the sound of hope renewed, and she didn't even know it yet.
She twisted the door knob and she opened the door. "Hi", he said. "I just wanted to come by and introduce myself. I'm Lucas, but my friends all call me Luke. My family and I just moved in the house next door. I'm from Lindsborg originally, it's a small town in Kansas, but my old man got offered a job here, so we moved. I liked it there, it was home, you know. And now I'm here, and I don't know anyone, and I'm expected to show up at this new school next Monday, and I'm lost, and this big change is baffling and exhausting enough as it is." He paused as if to get a hold of his breath. "Um, I don't know why I'm telling you all this, I'm sorry. Let me start again. Hi. I'm Lucas. I guess I'm your new neighbour. What's your name?"
Mae stood there, perplexed. She wasn't sure what was going on. She never heard so many words in so little time. He was probably a couple of years older than her, maybe in his early twenties. Auburn curly hair, emerald green eyes, and a smile so innocent, so sweet, so beautiful, it could light up her entire existence. She didn't understand how a stranger could pour his heart out like that. "Hi", she finally managed to say. "I'm Mae. Nice to meet you." she said, smiling coyly.
"It’s very nice to meet you too Mae. I apologise if I came on too strong. I'm not usually like this. I guess I'm just anxious. I'm not used to this much change." he said, his voice somewhat softer now. He seemed genuinely lost. They both did. He then asked about her life in general, her likes and dislikes. They spent over an hour on the front porch talking about everything and nothing at the same time. She felt different, lighter somehow. This never happened to her before. Fact – Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to, especially if that someone is a perfect stranger who has no idea who you are or where you've been. Besides, it was like he knew exactly what she needed to soothe her loneliness.
"Luke", she said when they both stopped talking.
He smiled and her heart skipped a beat.
"No. Thank you." he said.
He looked into her big hazel eyes, as if he expected her to say something, but she didn't. She didn't know what she was supposed to say. So instead, she got up, took his hand gently in hers, and softly, she said, "Come with me." They walked past the tall vibrant trees and by the river. The beautiful colours of sunset were reflected in the waves, the same waves the ducks were using as part of their rhythmic dancing routine. The night was looming in, and by then you could hear the distinct chirping sound of the crickets. They found a patch of grass to lie down in, comfortable enough to look up at the stars, isolated enough to shut out the rest of the world. She felt at peace. He was no longer the handsome stranger with the beautiful smile by her front door. In a day, he became the friend she never had. That night, they talked about almost everything, about constellations, life and death, politics, relationships, sex, travelling, war. They talked about their fears, their hopes and dreams. They didn't even sleep. They talked and talked until they ran out of things to say. But the silence between them wasn't awkward. On the contrary, it was quite comforting.
On one occasion, she felt his hand brush up against hers, and for the first time in a very long time, she felt alive. She could see him smiling, even in the dark. His eyes, they sparkled, mirroring the moon. She was too busy being blissful to notice that he was watching her too. Her silhouette inspired him. He didn't feel so lost anymore. He could do this forever. He knew he could.
So he rolled over, kissing her cheek. With his lips touching her ears, he whispered...
"I want you to close your eyes and I need you to trust me."
"Why?" she asked half-heartedly. Trust was never her strongest suit.
"Because I have something to give you but it’s meant to be a surprise."
She closed her eyes, reluctantly at first. She didn't know what to expect. After all, she didn't know him that well. And he seemed restless. He fidgeted impatiently, as if he was looking for something he couldn't find. "Here", he finally said, as he stretched out his hand to reach hers. "You can open your eyes now."
* * * * *
She did. She opened her eyes. She looked around, but she couldn't see him. She just stood there, in the middle of a cold empty living room, looking down at the palm of her hands, her hopeful heart beating to the echo of the rocking chair, holding nothing but a memory, a star, and a tiny little piece of his heart.
* * * * *