“Arthur, I need to show you something.”
I peeked open one eye and saw a familiar freckled face right before me. That wasn’t unusual in itself, but the fact that she was in my room in the middle of the night was.
I let out a wild squawk and thrashed about for a moment. The covers tightened around me until they created a cocoon. The harder I tried to kick them off, the more they fought back. The battle raged on until I thudded off the bed and onto my hardwood floor, the cover the clear victor.
“Beatrix!” I hissed. “What are you doing in my room? When’d you get back from Asheville? I thought your parents had something super important to do?”
I wanted her to say, no, I’m back for good. We’re not going to move to Asheville, a whole hour away, and nothing will change.
Instead, she held a pale finger to her lip. A stream of moonlight filtered in through my window and illuminated her from behind, like a halo on her dark hair. “Shh. Don’t let your parents know I’m here.”
“I’d like to know how you’re here,” I said. I squinted at her and managed to release one hand so I could scrounge about for my glasses on the table above me.
I didn’t find them, but I did manage to knock over my water glass. It dumped on my curly head and made me yelp—or at least, I would have yelped if Bea hadn’t shoved her hand over my mouth.
She gave a soundless cackle at my misfortune as she somehow managed to free me from my restraints. It was only once I was loose that I realized I was clad in my Star Wars pajamas which had been washed so much they were almost threadbare.
Heat rose in my cheeks even though part of my brain told me that Beatrix had no room to judge. This was the girl that’d been both Princess Leia and Boba Fett for consecutive Christmases. This year, she’d already declared that she was going to repurpose the latter costume to be the Mandalorian.
And, of course, she’d somehow made me agree to be her Baby Yoda.
But all of this had been discussed in the light of day, when I had a bit more clothing to protect my dignity, and not in the bright thread of moonlight by the side of my bed.
Bea refused to answer anything in words. Not about her cryptic statement, not about why she was here, not even about how she’d gotten here. That was, not until she took my hand and led me to the window.
Outside, the Blue Ridge Mountains craned their fingers towards the bright sky. It almost looked like they could touch them, like the trees had actually poked the pinpricks in the fabric of the ozone layer to let the stars peep through.
And the sky itself was a painting, with various hues of blue and purple and orange swirled together and sprinkled with those big balls of gas. The sky was actually what our little slice of heaven was famous for: Bea and I lived “within spitting distance,” as the old mountain residents might say, of Maryland Earth to Sky Park in North Carolina—which was closer to Tennessee than the actual Maryland.
Bea cracked the window open. The wind ruffled my white curtains and Bea’s hair. My best friend swung one foot over the ledge and straddled the windowsill for a moment before she was on the trellis right outside my window and climbing down like some kind of monkey.
And while she may have been agile, I had just fallen out of bed and was in no hurry to break every bone in my body.
“I can’t,” I whispered down to her.
She tilted her head up. Her long, inky hair fell all the way to her waist and covered her brown eyes. “Just try, Arthur. This is important. Please.”
“But—” I began.
“I triple dog dare you on our friendship.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
I winced. I realized in the back corner of my mind that a triple dog dare didn’t have any weight whatsoever...but the whole bit about our friendship did, especially if she was just about to move and forget all about me. I gave her a few more pleading looks, but she stood her ground, even when they turned to glares.
“I’m gonna die,” I moaned.
The trellis seemed to creak under my weight, like I was a few seconds from plummeting to my doom. I whimpered a few times, but even that didn’t draw Bea’s sympathy. But as soon as I climbed down far enough, I felt her hands on my back and knew that I was safe.
“There,” she said as my feet hit the ground. “You could do it. I always believed in you.”
I turned around and she patted my cheek. Our eyes met for a second. The moonlight seemed to gather around, to push in closer and closer to see what might happen next. I blinked my owlish eyes. Nothing. Nothing would happen next, because she was Bea, I was in Star Wars pajamas, and we were only fourteen. My mamaw had told me enough times that I couldn’t date or even think about girls until I was twenty, at least. I didn’t plan on challenging that rule until I was at least sixteen.
Definitely not here at midnight with Bea.
Although maybe I sort of wanted her to be the one I broke the rule with at sixteen.
“What was so important? I’m freezing.” To emphasize my point, I wrapped my arms around myself and began to shiver violently.
Bea rolled her eyes and pried my hand from my upper arm. She intertwined our fingers and dragged me along the moonlit path, like she was actually walking on some celestial road. We made our way further and further up our hill until it seemed that we might join the mountain in reaching for the sky. We might end up in the sky if we didn’t quit going higher.
Beatrix brought me to the stop on the crest of the hill behind my house. Papaw had cleared this section out for my parents just last summer. I think the plans were to build a gazebo or a garage or something, but in either way, nothing had materialized yet.
Which is why Bea and I could stare up at the full moon unhindered tonight.
Pigsah National Forest stretched out before us. There was almost nothing but trees for miles and miles, maybe all the way to Asheville. Beatrix stood next to me, shoulder to shoulder, as we peered up at the sky.
“I wonder if we’ll see the Millennium Falcon?” I squinted up into space. “It looks clear enough. I bet I can see all the way past…” I gave a preemptive cackle. “Uranus.”
I devolved into a fit of laughter, while Beatrix stood over me with her mouth twisted up, eyebrows bunched together. Even her nose was crinkled, like a little rabbit, all the freckles bunched up to look like a whole spiral galaxy instead of separate stars.
“Don’t be such a boy,” she snapped.
I gave another hoot of laughter and clutched my side.
“Oh—Arthur—” she growled. “Are you done yet? ‘Cause I’ve got something I need to talk about tonight.”
She stretched her arm up then, like all the trees around her. She stood up on her tippy-toes, and even though I wasn’t sure what she was going to do, my heart suddenly stopped. It was the kind of moment when you just know something bad is going to happen. That the world is about to tilt on its axis and possibly even start going backward, and there’s nothing you can do about it. She stretched out so far that I could see a sliver of bare skin on her back, white skin glowing paler in the moonlight. There was something ethereal about it all. Like it wouldn’t seem out of place if gravity just lost hold of her and she floated right up into space.
“Bea!” My voice sounded a bit strangled, just like my heart. Both were caught in the vice grip of some dark, fearful monster, and I latched onto her waist so that I could pull myself up. “Wait—tell me why your parents took you to Asheville today—tell me you’re not going to move—tell me you’re not going to—leave me.”
“Shh,” she whispered. “I need you to look, not spazz like you always do.”
I didn’t know if I dared. I buried my face in her hair, in her shoulder, and clung to her. My heart thudded at a rapid beat, and it was like the song it played announced with each thump that this was the end. Bea was gone. There would be no more movie marathons, no more trees to climb, no more wrestling matches where I usually ended up bruised or scratched or bit by “accident.”
And then, even though I knew Bea might not approve, I started to cry.
I felt her shoulders tense and move, as if she had swiped at something with her arm. “Arthur. For real. Stop. Look.”
I didn’t want to see whatever she wanted to show me. It would take her away from me. I wouldn’t be able to live without her. I would sooner just curl up and die than if she floated into the atmosphere—
I felt something cold against my cheek as she touched it. I sniffled a few times and tilted my head to see that she held something sparkling in her hands.
It glittered like the stars above us, twinkled in her hands. I wished for a third hand to touch it, but as it stood, I was not an octopus and there was no way I was going to let go of Bea. Her tether to our little slice of Earth, this little “holler” we called home, was still too tenuous.
“Are—are you sick? Did you have to go see some specialist? Did they tell you that you had cancer or only a few months to live or—”
Bea smiled until her dimples appeared. “Nothing that dramatic.”
“Are you moving, then? Going to—to Asheville, or Tennessee, or Kentucky, or Virginia…or…or…worse? Like Florida?”
“Nah. Staying here for any foreseeable future. My parents just had some business to take care of up there, but that’s all.”
Bea twisted something around my neck—something inexplicable. It was red and brown, mixed with a few swirls of blue and green, and thin and wispy like air. But it had a weight to it. Not much—maybe “weight” wasn’t even the proper word—but I could feel it as she wound it around my neck.
Then, like she was painting me, she dipped her fingers into the palm of her hands and began to dot my cheeks with it.
Her finger brushed across my cheekbones, my nose, my forehead—I could feel her touch, feel the coldness she left behind. And when it looked like she’d used all that was in her palm, she tilted her head back up the sky, reached up—and somehow plucked a patch of purple from the night sky, which still glittered like fairy dust, and began to decorate me with that as well.
“How—what—” I blinked up at the night sky, but it didn’t seem to have any fewer stars there. And, besides—weren’t stars supposed to be big, hot, balls of gas? And if this was a nebula she had wrapped around my neck, then—nebulas were dusty. Gas and dust. I was allergic to dust. Maybe I was just allergic to Earth-dust, and not space-dust?
My thoughts became less and less coherent, even as Bea held up her cupped hands between us. She was all twisted around and discombobulated from my tight grip, but she didn’t complain. The starry soup in her hands glowed with a violet light, which cast our faces with its unearthly sheen. Even Bea’s brown eyes looked almost purple in the light, like she was some cartoon character.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not sick. I don’t plan on dying, and I doubt some horrific event will steal me from you in the immediate future.” With her other hand, she reached up and tucked some curls behind my ear. “I just wanted to show you this. Tonight.”
“I don’t understand,” I bawled. “I don’t want you to go.”
“You’re not listening one bit, are you?”
“It’s—it’s just—” I blubbered for a little bit longer before I could finally organize my thoughts. “It’s just, in the movies, in the books, whenever there’s a moment like this, it never lasts. It’s always a precursor to some tragedy…”
“Oh, cut me a break. This isn’t some melodramatic piece of sick-lit.”
Bea blew onto her hand and sent a bit of the stars skittering towards me. I had to clench my eyelids shut so that I didn’t have literal stars in my eyes.
“There was just a full moon tonight. And I wanted to experience it with you,” she said.
She smoothed my curls back. Either the stars—or whatever it was she had in her hand—or the water I’d spilled on me was chilly as it dripped behind my ears and down my neck.
Our faces were barely apart. I hadn’t let go of her since that initial burst of fear. And Bea didn’t seem any closer to wiggling or fighting her way free, and I knew she was capable of both.
“I—” My tongue froze in my mouth, and it had nothing to do with the temperature of the substance sliding down my spine.
She finally wiped the rest of the galaxy off on my shirt—would that leave a stain? would it come out in the wash?—and rested her hand at the small of my back.
I shivered again. I don’t think the temperature had anything to do with it that time.
“I don’t understand. Are you actually an alien? Are you—I dunno. Is Star Wars actually what happened on your planet?”
Bea raised her eyebrows. “You’ve known me since we were in diapers. I think the only thing you’ve missed in my life is my actual birth. At what time do you propose I had time to jump into hyperdrive and jet across the galaxy with Chewbacca?”
I thought back. I really couldn’t picture a memory without Bea. Our dads had been best friends growing up, and, as far as I knew, I was pretty sure her dad had lived his whole life in North Carolina. Her mom was from Ohio, which I guess was about as close from another galaxy as we would get in this scenario.
“Then—I just really don’t understand. At all.” I swallowed and waited for her to carefully lay it out. She was always so good at that. When I couldn’t tell Othello from Hamlet or even Mars another star in the night sky, she would help me.
“Don’t understand. Nobody can.” She dropped her arm from my back only to wrap both hands around my neck.
I was no longer cold from whatever starry soup she’d put on me. Now I felt like there was a supernova inside my stomach, all the way up to my head.
“Not even the poets could really grasp the why and the who and the when—it just happens.” Bea rolled her eyes heavenward for a moment. “I don’t know. I didn’t plan out a speech. I just knew that I was sick of waiting. Aren’t you?”
“Sick of—for what?” I paused when she looked back down at me. The supernova exploded inside my gut. “Oh. Oh.”
“I kept waiting and waiting for the perfect time to tell you, and all the sudden, tonight, as I was looking at the moon, I realized there wasn’t a perfect time.”
“I don’t—” I began, but Bea let out a tiny huff and reached upwards.
She studied the night sky for a moment before she tugged down a slice of—moonlight, maybe? I half expected it to taste like cheese or a Moon Pie when she placed it on my mouth, but it just felt like a slightly melted ice cube.
“Shh. Don’t talk.” She pressed her finger overtop the thin film of moonlight on my lips. “I’ll let you talk in a minute, if you still want to.”
With the way things were going, I wasn’t sure if that had any hidden meaning or not.
“Like I was saying…I kept thinking that everything that held me back from telling you was all in my head. Like I would ruin our friendship, that everyone just saw us as brother and sister, like you’re a dumb idiot and I’m not sure if you’re ready to be in a relationship. Heck, I’m a dumb idiot and I don’t know if I’m ready to be in a relationship.” She gently pried the moon from my mouth and tossed it aside. “But I didn’t want to wait to tell you the most important thing.”
She’d freed my lips. And though I hadn’t intended to steal her thunder—something she may be able to do literally, I wasn’t sure—I blurted out what I’d become certain of about six months ago. “I love you.”
It was probably about the clunkiest, hastiest confession that had ever been spoken. Bea’s beloved Shakespeare probably would have yelled “cut!” and made us re-do the entire scene. But Bea only grinned and said the words that made George Lucas proud.
And then I realized that there had been a secret meaning to her words before, the second after our moon-kissed lips met.