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May 01, 2020

General

People had too much to say about stars, the way he saw it. Out here, after night classes, he could see couples kissing, children running, old men with scraggly beards strolling and pointing – all with something to say about the salt specks littering that vast expanse of darkness above. Their voices would fall onto a bed of cool air. Then these would fall between the hairs of grass, where he often lay down, relaxing after a test.


Guren would plug in his earphones, and think about the people thinking about stars.


One of these nights, after French or IT, or whatever it was he was doing then, he tripped over Colton’s feet on the way back from his classes. The ache was dull as he fell flat on his behind.


“Are you quite alright?” Colton extended a long, soft hand to pull him out of the soil and grass. This startled Guren, who, arms flailing, scrambled into a sitting position. One earphone dangled down his neck uselessly. He took a moment to close his mouth, before hugging his knees, eyes darting away into the thicket of blue-green.


“Never better,” he choked out.


It made Colton laugh, and Guren wanted to ask him what he thought about the stars. However, the next moment Colton’s eyes were wandering downwards, fixating on Guren’s empty breast pocket. Guren followed his line of sight, and . . . Oh. His phone was missing. Funny how he hadn't noticed the music go silent in his ears.


The grass was long, pricking against his skin as he hunted through it. Colton offered to help rummage through the stuff for the missing phone. At first, Guren shrugged him off, unwilling to have those slender fingers burrowing into the dirt, but Colton was insistent. He clicked his tongue.


“Does it bother you that much?”


Seeing the mirthful crease in the man’s face, Guren shook his head. They continued not to find the phone. Perhaps it had fallen out of his pocket, given that both phone and wires had been eaten away by age, even before all this, even before Colton had come by.


“That’s funny. Things going missing, that is. Now that you’ve said it, I think I lost my umbrella here a few weeks ago.”


A knit formed in Guren’s brows, his head canting unconsciously to one side. How had careful Colton gone and done that?


“Forgot about it – “ his smile crinkled “ – then I remembered on the next street, but when I went back looking, it just wasn’t there anymore.” When he shrugged, the end of his black scarf bounced with the motion, flicking the air. His reached to fiddle with the cloth, rubbing it back and forth between his thumb and his index finger.


They seemed about to call off the search when something came to Guren, and he turned up to face Colton – “Walk with me.” Russet eyes widened in surprise, a short-lived spark, before Colton nodded and followed him across the courtyard, grass crunching underfoot.


Inside the classroom, lamplight glowed dim and drowsy. Guren sighed out a breath. Stuffiness clouded the otherwise clean smells of whiteboard ink and paper. In the corner of his vision, he saw Colton’s lip quirk downwards, his head turning towards the shuttered window in a sort of heavy silence. What was he thinking? A knot began to form in Guren's throat.


Would Colton tell him, as they bent down and looked in the drawer of each desk? As they combed the corners? Searched the slits between cabinets, groping and grasping, sometimes bumping elbows? Most of it was empty, given that it was nearing the end of the year, with all the courses bound to wrap up soon.


“You’re going home over the holiday?” said Colton, finally.


Guren stopped with his face stuck underneath the teacher’s table. He could hear the sole of Colton’s shoe scrape anxiously against the tiles.


“I don’t stay here. Just take the night classes.”


As he got up, he saw thin eyebrows arching upwards. “I’d always thought you were one of the performing arts students?”


“Why? Do I look like a dancer to ya’?”


Colton snickered behind closed fingers.


“No, it was just an impression I had.” That weighted quietness peeled away. Guren reached for the switch and clicked on the spotlights that lined the ceiling outside.


They did not find the phone. As they walked through the hallway, Guren felt a warm touch on his neck. It was Colton winding the earphone wires up, untangling them from his neck. Guren held his breath, until the soft hands finished tucking. Until they pulled away to leave a chilly spot on his skin.


“Don’t want to be losing that as well, do we?”


Later that night, Colton had a million and one readings to do. Guren complained about his projects. Colton had a story about his professor, who tried to sneak naps when he thought no one was looking. Guren made some side comments about his internship, his oral tests, his practical. Colton thought he must be a very busy man.


“Not really.” Guren felt the cold nip of the breeze on his nose, taking in the sight as the glass door opened out, brushing against foliage, into the midnight air.


An array of white jewels gazed down at them, glittering. If Guren looked carefully, he could tell which were the blinking satellites, uncertain and flighty. He could tell which were helicopters, those twinkling in brief visitations, borrowing the shape and façade of comets, of meteorites. He could see the unbreaking light that defined stars, a lantern-like light that hung in the vault of the heavens.


Wind whooshed past them. It sang through the grass, rippling through, sending a luscious coolness sinking into his skin. He caught a whiff of Colton’s shampoo. Mint tea. Something light. When he turned, he found they were gazing at each other, almost nose to nose in the wide open space of the building’s entrance.


“You’ll be back?”


The soft fabric of Colton’s jacket framed his neck, stretched up into the line of the scarf, tucked around a questioning curve of the jaw. Guren craned his neck to look higher. It didn’t hurt.


“Yeah,” he said. “‘Course.”


If there was one thing Guren had to say about stars, is that they seemed content, just waiting for morning.

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2 comments

17:00 May 19, 2020

Hi Ruey! The Reedsy Critique Circle invited me to read your story:-) I liked it and I like how there was that subtle hint of attraction. You also handle detail very well. Good job!

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Ruey Fern Tan
08:30 May 20, 2020

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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