“Don’t run from me, Mura,” he frowned at her from across the lounge. Anger flashed in her eyes as he slowly approached her, coming to a stop a few feet away. His hands were raised in front of him, pleading silently to let him explain. He flinched at the burst of accusation that flitted across her face. She was always good at hiding her more explosive emotions, but never from him. Shaun knew her too well, and too long for her to really hide from him.
She stood poised on the other side of the velvet couch, clutching a cushion in her fist, silently debating whether or not it would be worth throwing at his hidden face. All she could really see were the emotions swirling in the coffee colors of his eyes. It wouldn’t have helped how she felt.
“Don’t you start with me, asshole,” she blinked hard to keep the betrayal welling up in her vision at bay. “You didn’t say a single word to me. I had to find out from someone else!”
Here were two worlds separated by a pair of intricate double doors. On this side, a young man and young woman engaged in silent battle over the beacon of hurt between them. Neither were particularly eager to address it first. On the other side was a vast ballroom of glittering tile with billowing drapes of deep burgundy, framing a multitude of dancers entranced in the swell of music. A party oblivious to what would happen behind closed doors. Shaun elegantly lifted the venetian mask from his face, golden dust trailing behind it. Taking her to a masquerade was his idea, and a terrible one at that he thought, chagrined. It was a poor attempt at masking his own uneasiness that accumulated in his conscience over the last couple weeks. He felt the trepidation in his own face earlier this evening as he adjusted his fitted black tuxedo. He knocked on her door hand trembling, and was thankful he already remembered to put on his disguise.
Shaun glanced at the sapphire twinkle of rhinestones among Mura’s chiffon skirts, unable to look at her directly. This was much harder than he thought it would be. After all, she knew him just as well. What made him think he could hide something like this from her? Sucking in a breath he forced himself to meet her simmering chocolate glare. No hiding, no pleading, no feigning passivity.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t expect…”
“Didn’t expect what?” She flung the cushion in his direction, knowing it would miss. “That you would be shipped away thousands of miles from me? That you would somehow not be accepted to the program overseas when you applied for it? Without telling me? Blindsiding me?” Mura began gesturing wildly. She did this when the seams began to come apart. When a situation grew to be unpredictable. “Were you not thinking about how it would hurt me to have you ripped abruptly away…?” the rest of the words were choked down by the rage painted with heartbreak.
The shame overwhelmed him and he couldn’t watch the chocolate in her eyes melt into sadness. He thought back to when the letter arrived in his mailbox. How he knew what it was the moment his hand grazed the heavy cream-toned envelope. That without opening it, he knew what would be inside. To Shaun, the letter was akin to Pandora’s Box. To rip it open, would be to break the seal and unleash a thousand terrible things, but leaving hope for a better tomorrow at the bottom. At first, he avoided it…leaving it next to the bowl of keys by his front door…then tossing it on the coffee table amidst term papers, job applications, and rejection letters… It was only a day later, that he snatched it off the kitchen counter, muttered “There’s no possible way…” and violently ripped it open. He couldn’t take this strange mixture of apprehension and anticipation anymore; he needed to know if he was right.
There it was, the truth was stamped in demure reds and golds. He was accepted to the Post Graduate Program at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne for studying Unconventional Spacecraft Design. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Shaun applied months ago with the same blasé attitude a high school student would apply to the revered Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “just to see what would happen.” The surge of joy and accomplishment in his heart was quickly shattered when he realized he had to choose between the two loves. His faith in himself to choose the right thing faltered.
Here he was again, posed with the question: Mura, or Lausanne? It was almost impossible to choose, but Mura seemed to know what would happen even before he did. She had the knack of knowing things with unwavering confidence, where Shaun had the knack of perpetually questioning himself. All of her anger slowly dripped away, and with a final sigh she succumbed to the forces that were out of her grasp.
“I didn’t think I would be accepted. I wasn’t even thinking about it- I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean for us,” he whispered just loudly enough for the words to not be carried away by the whirlwind of laughter and joy that threatened to spill into this room. This moment was fragile, a point of change that could mean many beginnings or many ends. They were sinking in a silence too heavy for the either to bear, but were afraid to disturb this balancing act. It was a future at stake. The emptiness between their words filled with all the expressions they didn’t need to say out loud.
I forgive you.
I love you.
“It doesn’t matter. You knew I wouldn’t leave…” Mura thought about all of the hours she spent pouring her soul into her dream. She considered the years of school in business and language, the multitude of side jobs she held to get money put away, the internships that led to the University’s Young Entrepreneurship award…the sheer effort that went into hauling the bookstore café from dreamscape to reality. The grand opening was just last month. Who said you couldn’t have more than one dream? Was their passion so finite that it would be spent entirely pursuing one aspect of what makes a life worth living?
“Shaun, I’ve sacrificed too much already,” a weariness appeared in her voice, making his stomach churn. “I had the audacity to demand that a dream manifest itself.” In that moment she gathered the fragments of her willpower and shoved them back together. She erased the space between them, step by step. Mura reached up to brush out the golden glitter tangled in Shaun’s hair and watched it sprinkle to the floor, not far from where the mask itself lay. There was a comfort resettling in the breaths between them. It was a familiar song, one they’d heard many times before in both joy and pain. It was the sound of their harmony, hearts familiarly greeting one another. She brought her gaze back to his; chocolate tearstains and coffee remorse. “It would be incredibly unfair if I kept you from chasing yours. It hurts me to think you couldn’t tell me because you thought I would hold you back…Congratulations. You’ve done a lot to achieve it.” He pressed his lips to her forehead in a silent thank you. Her perfume pleasantly tickled his nose. Lilac, sea salt, summer breeze. It was the only way he could describe it, and it was his absolute favorite. Mostly since it reminded him of that first summer.
Lightly brushing his thumb over the soft dimple in the corner of her forlorn smile, he reminisced, “Do you remember that day we spontaneously drove out of town to find the perfect spot to have a picnic? Just because we could?” Her dimple deepened as she bobbed her head, in recollection of the warmth from the sunset that evening. They’d stayed out much longer that intended, gorging themselves on conversation and sweet treats they’d bought in the small town they drove through. Eventually they found the perfect patch of undisturbed grass under a humongous oak tree. “I remember, it was only a few months after I met you,” she replied tenderly. The part of that night Shaun remembered most was coming across a teenager, a budding astronomer, that finally achieved the perfect view of a star he’d been trying to capture for several nights. The teen let them take a look, excitedly showing off his accomplishment to the only witnesses- the clear night sky applauding him with brilliant starlight, and this couple on their way back towards the edge of town. All it took was a moment. There was a moment where she smiled in wonderment at the view of a single star. The night breeze caressed his face, and carried that scent of lilac, sea salt, and summer. That smile grew just a little bigger when she looked back at Shaun, frozen in awe. That was the first time his heart stuttered. That was the first time a different kind of dream was born.
The music began to filter into the room again while the precarious moment had passed, and Mura felt the time beginning to slip away. It was too fast. A leak in a small boat that held the two of them and the world that was only theirs. In a subconscious plea for the night to go on a little longer, she nudged Shaun towards the French doors and opened them to a balcony. “If I recall correctly, tonight’s sky is supposed to be just as clear and beautiful as that one was, three years ago.”
For an instance he glanced at the constellations, almost trying to assure himself that at least some things in his lifetime will not change quite so fast. “Yes, yes, it is,” he replied blinking sadly back to Mura knowing that they would never be the same.
Mura stared far and beyond the night sky above them. The ghostly orbs of starlight winked at the ephemeral timelines of these hopeless men and women dancing away in a mirage of opulence. She was a child lost in the stars, floating in between the nothingness, reveling in the solitude of the blank silence. Nothing mattered in this space between points of existence, not love, not pain, not happiness, nor regret. And thus, she let herself float away, becoming stardust herself. She joined the star-scape that called out to her in all the ways daylight couldn’t.
Shaun observed her, unsure of whether he should interrupt her or not. It was the first moment tonight there was a peace smoothing the troubled lines that were present on her face as of late. He hated to know that they were because of him. Her eyes fluttered closed, dark lashes resting gracefully over damp cheekbones. The beauty that presided in the calmness she emulated captivated him like no one else had ever managed to do in his short lifetime. It was in that moment he realized, although the lines of fate weren’t favorable, there would always be a part of him that would love Mura no matter how far apart they roamed in space or time. They would always have that lilac, sea salt, summer breeze on a quiet night. A first love is special like that.