I know a place where a single word causes frustration beyond measure. Upon reading this word, a person may be overcome with a feeling of helplessness, and despite the shivering hope in your chest, there is nothing you can do about it. The word is 'Delayed', and Richard's plane should have landed three hours ago. My fingers remained curled around the strap of my backpack as I slouched lower into the seat I had battled other weary travellers for. I jest, I had just been lucky. Mostly.
"Your dear grandmother would weep if she saw your posture right now." I was startled at the young woman towering over where I sat. I was certain that she had not been there two seconds ago. She was ridiculously tall, with a loose dark braid that brushed her knees. I made a mental note to ask for her hair routine after I figured out what was going on. For now, all I could muster was an unintelligent "Huh?" "I mean, after everything she's done for you? All the piano lessons," she sighed, placing her hand on the armrest of my seat, "she only wants whats best for you."
I was stunned. "Do I know you?" I asked, shifting in my seat to sit more upright, suddenly self-conscious. "Yeah," she grinned. "Well, you've seen me around at least." She was leaning over me now, face painted with childish excitement, which I would find endearing if her nose wasn't inches from mine. "My friend will be here any minute now, I need to go meet him," I said. "Nah, Richard's plane won't land for another ten minutes. You're fine to just wait here." She positioned herself so that she was half sitting on my armrest, one leg crossed over the other. My mouth hung open in bewilderment. "You know Richard?" "Of course! Just like I know you!" It took her a moment to understand that there was no way any of this was making sense to me. "I should explain. I'm the Moon." She jumped up and twirled before opening her arms and performing an exaggerated theatrical bow.
I blinked once. Twice. It did not give me any clarity. "You know, the bright thing in the sky that comes out at night? Don't play dumb, I know you've written poetry about me," she smirked, and I blushed. I had never shown that to anyone. "'A fickle lover, she circles me. If I were the sun, she would glow brighter,' Aren't you an adorable romantic!" "You do make a good muse, I must admit. What brings you here?" There could be no harm in humouring her, right? "Well, I was bored. I like to take time off during the summer when my workdays are shorter. I don't get much time off otherwise." "And I can call you," I prompted. "Selene! It's my favourite name by far." She glanced at the clock. "Oh, Richard should be here now, let's go meet him." "We?" I asked, but she was already marching towards the arrivals gate. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and jogged to catch up with her.
Richards's white t-shirt was uncharacteristically wrinkled as he walked through the doors. He had come directly from Chennai, which was a far longer journey than the trip I made from Leeds. "Richard," I called. His head turned and his face split into a grin. "Katie!" He hurried over, tossing down his bag before crushing me in a long-overdue hug. "Welcome to Rome! I hope you've been doing well," I said. "Better now," he responded. "It was great being with family, but my sister's Shawn Mendes phase has made a comeback..." "Well, you're here now. Let's get going. I'm not wasting a moment more in this airport." "Agreed," Selene grinned. "Wow, this bag is definitely over twenty kilograms. Did you need to pay extra for it?" she asked, returning the bag to the floor where Richard had dropped it earlier. He frowned. "Katie, who is this?" "Selene. We just met." "I'll join you two. Let's go to the hostel," Selene announced. I tried to protest but she cut me off. "The train into the city leaves in ten. From there I'll show you a shortcut that will take you straight into Monti and to your hostel." She turned to Richard. "I'll take your bag, let's go," she said, clapping his shoulder like an old friend. I met Richard's skeptical gaze and shrugged. "Let's go. How bad can it be." "You seem to trust this stranger an awful lot," he commented. "You're just sour because she's gunning for your title as my tour guide. Lighten up." "Perhaps," he mused.
Selene led us through Rome as she promised. "I've been coming here for millennia. Not much has changed, yet at the same time, everything is so different." "This is my first visit. Richard's been here a couple times." Selene smiled. Richard, who was walking a few steps behind us, grunted in acknowledgement. I slowed my pace to walk beside him. "Everything okay? You've been very quiet." "Just tired," he replied. "I think I'll go to bed when we reach the hostel." "But we were going to grab dinner and take a night tour of the Catacombs!" "Funny, for once you're actually sticking to the plan instead of doing your own thing. You go. Selene can guide you." "You got it, boss," Selene called from ahead. I hadn't realized she was listening to our conversation. "Are you sure you're alright," I asked again, quieter this time. He offered me an unconvincing smile. "I'm fine. You have fun, I need rest."
The hostel was an apartment in a weary stone building with echoing staircases. I entered first, greeted by two foldable chairs separated by an old wooden coffee table. Sitting in the left chair was a man with khaki shorts and a white linen button-up. "Buona sera! Mi chiamo Marco." He extended his right hand towards me. "Ciao... I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian." He frowned for a moment as if this was a possibility he had not predicted. "Not a problem. I need your name and booking confirmation." "The booking is under Richard Epaka." I turned to Richard, and he stepped forward to provide the booking number. After confirming the information, he handed me the key. "This works for the front door as well as your private room. No smoking. The bathrooms and kitchen are to the right here. Your private room is down the hallway to the right, door number two." We thanked him and headed down the hallway.
I pressed my hand on the coarse wood of door number two and looked at Richard, then Selene. They both nodded enthusiastically. I inserted the key, turning it until I felt the lock click, and pushed it open. The room was quaint, furnished with only a wardrobe and a bedside table. And one bed. Richard followed my gaze. "I swear I booked a room with two single beds," he said. His face flushed as he continued. "It's a double bed, we'll have plenty of space, but we can try to sort out another room if you want." "It's fine," I sighed.
"Alright, now that that's settled, what're you going to wear tonight?" Selene asked, looking at me. "What? The clothes I'm wearing are perfectly fine." "Sure, you look lovely darling, but you've been travelling all day in those clothes. Let's see what you've packed." Selene gently pulled my bag off my shoulder and sat herself down on the floor, rummaging through it. "Aha!" She tossed me a floral wraparound skirt. "Turn around, I'm going to change," I said to Richard. "I thought you said your outfit was fine," he remarked, turning to face the window. I shrugged. "There's no harm in a fresh outfit. Besides, it'll be fun." "You're right, our trip is meant to be a fun time together." His tone was snide. I decided to ignore it. After I had pulled on the clothes Selene had tossed in my direction, she reached into the pocket of her gray cargo pants. "We just need a finishing touch. Hold up your hair." Her fingers brushed against my neck as she clasped on a silver necklace with glass gems dangling like dewdrops. I traced the jewelry hesitantly. "It's stunning. Thank you," I breathed. She smiled and I looked away for a split second. When I looked back, she was wearing a light blue sleeveless sundress with a satin sash around her waist, ending in a bow on her lower back. Her hair was still braided, but her boots had been traded in for dark blue ballerina flats. "I'm turning back around now, hope you're done changing," Richard called. "Where'd you get a change of clothes from, you didn't have a bag with you," he asked Selene skeptically. "I travel light," she smirked. I stifled a laugh. "Nice necklace," he commented. "It's Selenes, she's letting me wear it." "It could have some sort of tracking device on it." "Lighten up, I trust her." "You should be more careful- I can't win this fight, can I?" "Nope." "I'm going to bed," he grumbled. "His royal highness needs his beauty sleep." He flipped me off, laughing.
"So, the whole Moon thing, how does it work?" I asked, choking down another bite of carbonara. The restaurant was small and unassuming, but the food was divine. "Are you the actual Moon, or do just tell Moon subordinates how to move across the sky and shine the light?" "First of all, chew your food. I want to bring you to the Catacombs alive." I snorted. "But yes, I am the actual Moon. When you see a pale glowing sphere, or crescent, dance across the sky, that's me." I stared at her. I was starting to believe her. "I guess that makes sense." "Sadly, showing any Moon powers would get me in major trouble with the Sky. Goes against my contract, you know," she continued. I coughed. "Contract? Do you have worker's rights as well? Ever breached your contract?" "We're still working on worker's rights up there, we're not very progressive in that field." "Fair enough." "As for breaching contract, however... I'm sure you've seen me in the daytime alongside Sun. I'm not a huge fan of following rules." I smiled. With Selene here, outside in the sun surrounded by other dining customers, I felt as at home as I would in my apartment back in Leeds. Leaving the restaurant was bittersweet. I didn't want the moment to end.
As we walked down cobbled streets passing sleepy walls revived with vibrant graffiti, the horizon tugged the sun closer. I glanced at Selene. "Don't you need to get to work soon?" "I'm fine to stay for a bit, the clouds promised to cover for me." I chuckled, at a loss for how to respond. "I've been wondering," Selene started. "You and Richard. What's the deal?" "I thought the Moon saw everything," I quipped. "I see only what can be seen. Like you, I can't see feelings, unless it's unsent love letters or something material." "Love huh," I laughed. "Between me and Richard? We hit it off during kickoff week two years ago, and since then we've been best friends. There is nothing else going on there." "You should tell him that," she joked. "What, have you seen his unsent love letters to me?" "You'd be surprised," she chuckled. "Knock it off, you're messing with me." "Yes ma'am."
"I've been wanting to ask. Why are you here tonight?" She gave me a puzzled look. "I like holidays, and I like Rome." "No, I mean, why are you here with me? Specifically." "She giggled. "Alright, I like holidays, I like Rome, and I like you." I raised an eyebrow, not satisfied with this answer. She sighed. "Everyone loves the Moon in wintertime. People need something to gaze at on cold nights when they feel lonely. But then summer comes, and people glow once more in the sunlight. Summer nights are spent on beaches illuminated with campfires, kissing strangers and reuniting with friends. How could anyone ponder me and marvel at my light, when there are much brighter things to enjoy?" She took a shuddering breath before she continued. "You stare at me when the campfire is bright. You write about me. Sure, there are others who remember me when summer comes, but I'm glad I chose you to tag along with. Thank you for making summertime less lonely." At a loss for words, I wrapped my arms around her. Her hair was soft under my hand as I placed it on the back of her head and pulled her close. She hugged me back ferociously. When we finally broke apart, her fingers brushed mine cautiously, before grabbing my hand and meeting my eyes, uncertain. I squeezed her hand. "I won't stop writing about you."
Selene dropped my hand, eyes wide. "What's wrong?" I turned to her. She groaned, sinking to her knees. "No, please, give me more time," she begged. "Who are you talking to?" She didn't seem to hear me. "I'll follow the rules, just let me have tonight." I looked up at the night sky. The sun had set, and there was not a cloud in sight. I learned that night that the clouds were capable of the cruellest betrayal. I crouched beside her, placing my arm around her shoulder. "Just-" she gasped for breath- "let me have tonight." Selene looked up, listening to a voice I could not hear. Her eyebrows knit together and her lips parted, before her face twisted with rage. "I never asked to be chosen," she howled at the sky. "I wanted to live and die in the city I was born in, rather than watch over it for centuries." She turned to me, realizing that I was still here. Her face softened. "At least let me say goodbye." After a long moment, she sighed with relief. "I don't have much time." "Will I ever see you again?" "Every night," she promised. "Come visit me." "It's not that simple." "Someday, we will explore the Catacombs together." "I'd like that." She touched my cheek. "I need to leave. Write about me. I will see you again." She was starting to fade like a ghost. "I will. I promise." Before I could say goodbye, she was gone. I promised myself that I would wait, however long it took. I looked back at the sky, and the moon shone in its place once again. It carried a sadness I had never noticed before. I opened the notes app on my phone and started to write.
I made it back to the hostel in the early hours of the morning. Richard was asleep. As I lay in bed, I wondered if it had all been a dream. Would it be easier if it was? Finally, sleep liberated me from my mind.
I awoke to find Richard's arm around me. I shifted away from him and sat up. "Late night?" he asked. "How long have you been awake?" "Couple hours actually." I frowned. "So, I guess you finally managed to shake Selene." "What is that supposed to mean," I demanded. "Why are you so defensive? She's a stranger you met at the airport who decided to follow us around like a lost puppy." "Don't talk about her that way." "Why do you care so much?" "Drop it," I spat. He continued. "You know, I really don't understand you." I raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?" "I do everything for you, I listen to you when you cry, hell I planned this trip for you, and yet the moment your plane lands, your head is turned by the first pretty girl who says 'hi'." He tugged at his hair, exasperated. I gaped at him. "That's not fair." "I care about you and I want something more, is it really so ridiculous to hope that you might feel the same?" "No. It was ridiculous of me to believe that you were my friend because you valued me as a friend, and not because you wanted to get in my pants." He winced. "I'm sorry," I began. "But I don't see you that way. I will never see you that way. If you can't accept that, then we're done here." "Fine. I'll find another hostel, you can stay here." "Don't bother. I'm going home. Enjoy your holiday" "I'll give you time to pack your things," he muttered. The wall shook as he slammed the door behind him.
I packed up my things and booked the next flight back to England. The train ride to the airport was lonely, and I cried more than I care to admit. One day in Rome, and I managed to lose my best friend. Perhaps I acted too rashly. Still, I hated the fact that our friendship wasn't enough for him. I hated him for loving me. And then there was Selene. If she were here, everything would be okay. I touched the necklace she had lent me. I never got a chance to give it back. Now, it was all I had left of her. I hated the sun for shining when I longed for moonlight.
I arrived at the airport in a daze. For the most part, it felt like I was functioning on autopilot. After getting airport security, I indulged in an overpriced sandwich. The sandwich was true to its name: dry as sand, as airport sandwiches most often are. I glanced up at the screen and groaned at the word'Delayed', but my thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice. "Hey there stranger. That's a pretty necklace." I gasped. "Selene! How are you here?" "I have my ways. After millennia of living in the sky, you learn a few tricks." I threw my arms around her. I needed to make sure she was real. "Let me keep you company as you wait for your flight."