I took another step closer to the edge and looked up at the stars one last time. I didn’t feel cold anymore. I didn't feel anything except very alone. How many of those stars had already gone out? Maybe I was staring at a sky full of dead stars. Would people notice if one more went out? I looked down at the water and saw the same night sky reflected back at me, this one distorted by the ripples of a breeze but still just as beautiful. A small smile broke my face. Yes, this was the sky that suited me. I raised my arms and leaned forward until I was no longer on the edge but falling, flying toward the stars. In the moment before I landed, I saw myself reflected in the water. Now, I could be one of the stars.
I awoke to the sound of a Death Cab song that I use for my alarm. I swiped the snooze for a few extra minutes of peace and quiet. The dream lingered at the edge of my mind trying to coax me back to sleep. I willfully let it fade away as I do every time I wake up. I didn’t want to dwell on it nor what it meant. The mellow voice of Ben Gibbard roused me from my warm bed. As much as I wanted to sleep in, today was an important day. I pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a tee Will brought back from one of his concerts. I glanced over at my favourite hoodie slung over the back of my chair. The whole hall was coming for the party today. I've known most of these people for years. Shouldn’t I be comfortable enough around them to go without it? Still, Josh said that these things take time. I pulled the hoodie on and left, heading in the direction of Josh’s room.
Alex and Blue were already in there, eating at the counter. Alex looked up when I came in and waved me over.
“Boo oo ink oo ca bay ma hey” she said through a mouth full of eggs.
“Don't talk with your mouth full,” Blue said in a husky voice, glowering over his coffee.
“Aw, is someone grumpy?” I teased.
He scowled at me, “Not all of us want to be woken by this one,” he jerked his head in the direction of Alex who was once again stuffing her face, “coming in, yelling at the top of her lungs because she had flooded her bathroom again and needed to use mine.”
“It was high time you had woken up anyway,” Alex said.
“It was one in the morning,” Blue said tightly.
“Exactly,” Alex smiled, “High time”
“Y’know I think I like you better when you're male,” Blue muttered.
“That's only because you're gay,” she said in a singsong voice.
Having no response to this, Blue simply went back to glowering over his cup of coffee.
Alex, proud of her winning remark, turned back to me, “Do you think you could braid my hair for today?”
“If you want me to. Are you staying female the entire day?” I asked.
“Probably, Lucy is more comfortable around girls, and since we’re making her come out of hiding, I figured we could be more accommodating.”
“Does it maybe have anything to do with the fact that the last time she came out, you scared her?” Blue asked.
Alex flushed, “That was an accident. And no one asked you.”
Blue chuckled darkly.
I pulled a box of Reese's Puffs from the cabinet and poured myself a bowl.
“Do either of you want something to drink?” I asked, grabbing milk from the fridge.
“Some orange juice for me, M,” Alex chirped.
“An energy drink,” Blue requested before chugging the last of his coffee.
“Blue, you’ve already had three cups of coffee. Don’t you think you should wait and have some food first?” Alex asked, noticeably subdued, a hint of nervous in her voice.
“Nah, it’s not like it can kill me,” Blue said with a burst of laughter, “The pills took care of that.”
Alex looked sad now, “That doesn’t mean it will hurt,” she turned away, “or did you forget it affected me too?”
“Wait, what did you say?” I didn’t want to butt in, but this piece of information caught me off guard.
“When you become joined, whatever your soulmate feels, you feel too,” Alex mumbled, staring at her hands.
“I'm sorry, Alex. I had forgotten again,” he moved to comfort her but hesitated inches from her skin.
She looked up at him, her normally mischievous green eyes dull, “We’re in this together, dingus. You're my best friend and I want to see you get better.”
I felt like I was intruding upon a private moment, so, abandoning my Reese's Puffs, I excused myself, grabbed a bagel, and left in search of Josh.
Since he wasn’t in his room, he was most likely either with Will or Ellie. I decided to check Will’s room first. I tried knocking, but when no one answered, I let myself in. It was empty except for Will’s cat, Mocha. She came up to me, rubbing against my legs and meowing for treats. I gave her one from the bowl on the table. I sat down next to her and let her climb into my lap. I stroked her head and she gradually began to lean into my touch, purring contently.
If only it was always this easy to get people to like you.
“What do you think, Mocha? Do you think they could ever love me back?”
She looked at me quizzically with her round blue eyes.
I sighed, “Yeah, you're right. Even if we are soulmates, they still might only see me as a friend. I mean, look at Alex and Blue. They're joined but not sexually attracted to each other at all. I know it sounds selfish, but I want someone who can love me back.”
I started at the sound of the doorknob turning and looked up to see Will enter the room. He stopped at the sight of me sitting in the middle of his floor.
“Uh, hey, M, what are you doing?”
“I was looking for Josh and I thought he might be with you,” I got up from the floor awkwardly, displacing Mocha. She made a noise of displeasure and trotted up to her owner begging for pats from him instead.
“I'm sorry, I haven't seen him today. I've been with Forest all morning baking. Have you checked with Elliot yet?”
“No, I guess I can't avoid it.”
“Just talk to them.”
“Is that what you did?”
Bending down to pick up Mocha, he mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear.
“Is that another excuse?”
His ears reddened, but he said nothing.
“Right, that’s was I thought. I'll see you at the party,” I brushed past him on my way out the door and left it open behind me.
It was just a short walk down the hall to Ellie’s room, but every step felt heavy and magnified in the padded hallway. I kept hoping I would run into Josh before I reached my destination, dreading every step I took. Before I knew it, I was in front of their door, knocking. There was no answer, so, against my better judgement, I knocked again, louder. I heard a faint “come in” from inside, so I did. Elliot was sitting on their bed, strumming a guitar. They smiled when I came in. My apprehension melted slightly at that smile.
“Haven’t seen you around in a while, M. Did you need something?” they asked, putting the guitar down.
“Have you seen Josh? I've been looking all over for him.”
I thought I saw their smile falter, but it may have been my imagination.
They picked at the sleeve of their hoodie, “Um, he was here earlier but left for some reason...” their voice drifted off.
“Oh,” their eyes lit up, blue green grey, “I think he said he'll be back. Why don't you want here for him?”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to spend more time here than I had to. Will’s voice came to mind, unbidden. I hated to admit it, but he was right. I had to talk to them.
I put on my brightest smile, “Yeah, I think I'll do that.”
I went over and sat down next to them, the guitar between us. They were playing with their sleeve again. I realized with a shock that it was one of mine.
“Isn't that one of mine?” I asked, plucking at the shoulder.
“Yes, actually,” Ellie said with a laugh, “Do you not remember?”
I shook my head no. I'm surprised I didn’t notice sooner. I was one of the tallest guys on this hall, and Ellie was the shortest person. The jacket swallowed them, making them look even smaller. It was endearing.
I almost told them as much, but I settled with a “It suits you.”
Their eyes sparkled forest green as pink tinged their cheeks, “Thanks, yours suits you too. Although, I prefer you without it.”
It was my turn to blush. They had said things like this before. It felt different now for some reason. It might have been the fact that there was only a guitar separating me from them, or that from here I could where the shoulder of their hoodie had slipped and I simultaneously wanted to push it back up or lean over and kiss the side of their neck gently. Before I could either of these or even process these thoughts, the door opened and in stepped Josh. I jumped up to greet him.
“Josh, I've been looking for you everywhere.”
“Sorry, I've been all over getting stuff ready for the party today. You were actually the last person I needed to come talk to,” he said with a sigh, “Can I talk to you outside?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, stepping outside.
He closed the door behind us. Crossing his arms over his chest, he looked down at me.
He stared at me for a few seconds before saying, “I need you to stay with Elliot today while the rest of us finish up with the party preparations. Can you do that?”
“Why do you need me to do it?”
“Don't answer my question with another one. Answer mine first,”
He was never one to ask for things. He just asked if we could do what he wanted us to. He usually knew our limits as well, so when he did ask, it was him being courteous.
“Yes, I can.”
“Good, thank you. Bring them to my room by five,” and with that he walked away.
“Wait,” I called out after him.
He turned around. I didn’t know what I was planning to say or even why I called out for him.
I simply asked, “Could you tell Alex I'm here with Elliot? I promised her I would braid her hair.”
He nodded and turned away, walking down the silent hall. I watched him go then went back inside. Elliot had gone back to the guitar. I stood in the doorway and watched as they played a melody that pricked at my ears, holding an almost familiar song. They stopped to scribble in the notebook in front of them.
From where I was, I asked, “Can you teach me?”
They patted the spot beside them, and I spent the next hour or so learning about chords and notes, ow I should sit and what I should do with my hands. At one point, Alex came in, smiling once again. I took a break to braid her now long and purple hair. She left just as quickly as she came, saying a quick thanks and dashing out the door, talking to herself about what dress she wanted to wear today.
“Gosh, girls these days,” I said jokingly, heaving a fake sigh, “They’ll leave you as fast as they come. That's why you should date guys.”
“I think I'll take you up on that,” they said, smirking.
Damn, that was smooth. I felt heat stinging my cheeks. No, they couldn’t catch me off guard like this.
I leaned in closer to them, close enough to see their eyes change subtly greener, and I took their hand, “How about right now, Ellie?”
They blushed viciously, “Stop playing around, M.”
I backed off, ignoring the feeling of rejection that stung my eyes. I shook it off and checked the time. Oh no, is it that time already.
“We have to go,” I said urgently.
“Where? To the party?”
“You knew about that?”
“Winter, from the floor below ours, had his a few weeks ago. Don’t worry, I’ll act surprised.”
“Thanks, it would mean a lot to Josh.”
They smiled at me, “Of course.”
We hurried to Josh’s room and entered. Elliot acted surprised when everyone popped out with streamers. We ate the five different kinds of cake Forest and Will made. Josh said his speech, and everyone cheered. People talked and ate and generally had a good time. I tried to. I did everything with everyone else. I laughed along when Alex threw cake at Blue. I joined in when Blue started a food fight. I cowered when Josh yelled at us all for messing up his room. I did all this with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, but I was waiting for the time I could leave and go to bed. When the noise in the room increased to a headache inducing level, I decided to go find Ellie and say good night before leaving early. I found them in a corner sipping on a Coke. When I told them I was leaving, they clung to my sleeve.
I had to lean down to hear them, “Can you come with me first, please.”
Their eyes were the colour of an ocean storm, drawing me in. I consented and we stealthily left the party, heading up to the roof. The sky was a midnight blue velvet curtain spread across the earth, pierced with starlight. We sat with our back against the door staring at the stars. It was a thoughtful kind of quiet, interrupted only by our light breaths.
Ellie spoke first, “Thank you.”
“For coming up here with me.”
“It’s no problem. Why did you want to come here?”
They picked at a loose thread on the cuff of their sleeve, “Josh told me about the dreams that come after a year of being here, and I wanted to ask if you could stay with me the first night.”
Oh. I understood now. I smiled inwardly.
“Of course I’ll stay with you,” I gently took their hand and laced my fingers through theirs, “Don't worry, I'm right here.”
Ellie curled up next to me and slowly drifted off to sleep. I watched the stars twinkle overheard as they slept peacefully.
One hour passed.
I had lost track of all time when Ellie jerked awake, screaming and hyperventilating.
“Hey, Ellie, calm down, you're okay. It's okay,” I tried to calm them down.
They looked terrified, their eyes a bright, bottle green.
I held them until their breathing resumed a normal, steady pace. I tried to let go but that only made Ellie hold on to me tighter. When they finally relinquished their hold on me, I saw that their eyes were now the colour of fresh mixed cement. This did more to calm me than the even breaths they now took.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked cautiously.
They said nothing, seemingly lost in thought. They looked over at me. Hesitantly, they grabbed my arm and pushed up my sleeve. Turning my hand over, they gasped at what they saw. Ellie, with no more pressure than the kiss of a butterfly, traced the scars on my wrist.
“It’s you,” they whispered, looking up at me in wonder.
I cupped their cheek with my other hand, “For me, it’s only ever been you.”
“I thought you only liked guys, like Blue.”
I laughed, “I don’t love you for your gender. I love you for who you are. For years I've been seeing you die every night, not knowing who you were. When I finally got to know you, I knew you were the one I've been looking for. God, I'm so glad it’s you.”
They still looked unsure, “What if I mess this up too?”
“If I have to spell this out for you, I will. Every single star in the sky may already have gone out. But that’s the thing. By the time we notice, another star is being born from the stardust. Here's the other thing. We are made from stardust. We may fall and not have the strength to get back up again. We may lose sight of who we are. People leave. That’s a given. Others will take their place. People will change you, for the good and the bad. You know what, though. That’s okay. We are stardust. We have forever to get this right.”
I kissed them without a second thought, and we melted into one another. All tension was gone, absolute certainty in its place. We kissed until we could barely keep our eyes open, and then we fell asleep holding each other, staring at the stars.