The books were here.
The delivery man struggled to bring the big box up the stairs and to the front door but
when he did, Jason was there and ready to take the heavy load off his hands. He muttered a quick thank you, closed the door, and sat down in the middle of the hallway to begin tearing open the box. The tape was stubborn but Jason was even more determined and so less than a minute after it was delivered, the box had a gaping hole in its side.
Jason knew what his book looked like. He had spent countless hours with Lacey designing the cover exactly how he liked it, but nothing could’ve prepared him for this moment. In the box, twenty books, twenty beautiful copies of his book, were shining back at him. He looked at the top four and remembered how he and Lacey had spent so much time on the blue and gray color scheme, the giant maple tree that a couple sat under, the beautiful calligraphy that spelled out the title of his very first book, The Moon and the Stars and the Night Between Them. He pulled them out one by one until all twenty were stacked in neat piles in front of him. And then, even though he was a published author whose books were going to be sold in bookstores across the country, he wrapped them all up in a hug. A tear escaped but he wiped it away before it could splash on one of the books. He made it.
He could’ve sat there all afternoon but he had planned this day for a long time. After carefully arranging all his books on the dining room table, he grabbed the new package of pens, Post-it notes and Sharpie from his bedroom. When he sat down in front of his books, he put them into piles, with 15 in the first, 4 in the second, and 1 in the last. Before he could think too much about the last pile, he quickly moved to the first.
He signed each book in the pile, addressing each one to the teachers and professors who shaped him into the writer he was today. Then he wrote each teacher a special note on a Post-it and put it in the inside cover. As he wrote each note, the origins of his writing career became more and more clear, like how in kindergarten, when Ms. Smagatz helped every kid in the class create stories about themselves and their families. Or in fourth grade when Mrs. Kish told him that she’d be seeing his name in the bookstores in a couple years. In eighth grade, Mrs. Sommer read every short story he wrote and helped him fix the plot holes rather than telling him to wait until he was a little older and had a bit more experience. Even his high school English teachers who spent hours correcting essays and research papers had always set aside time to talk about the dozens of stories bouncing around his head.
While Jason was never a very smart student, his teachers had always taken the time to help him become an amazing writer and for that, he would always be grateful. Despite not seeing many of his teachers in over a decade, writing thank you notes came easily to him and he was finished in less than an hour. Time for the second pile.
The second pile had four books, but he split it into two and two. The first two were for his mom and dad, his first ever readers. His mom read everything he asked her to, whether it was a romantic space invasion or a dull essay about the progressive presidencies. She’d sit down with her tea and curl up in her favorite blanket with her glasses perched on the end of her nose and wouldn’t move until she finished. She wasn’t much of a critic, but she gushed over everything Jason wrote, filling him with more than enough confidence to accept any criticism an editor or teacher had to offer. He signed the inside cover, writing it out to the world’s best mom and worst critic. Thanks for all the love.
Jason’s father, on the other hand, wasn’t a huge fan of his son writing. He dreamed of watching his only son become a lawyer, businessman, or doctor, or maybe the next owner of the family business. Jason suspected that he’d even settle for him bringing a pretty girl home. Anything that gave them something to talk about. But Jason chose books instead. At first he took no interest in Jason’s life of books. In fact, the last book he read was probably The Great Gatsby his freshman year of high school. But he’d been trying harder to connect with his only son, mainly by asking him about his novel, the characters in it, and whether there were any fight scenes. He hasn’t read anything yet, but Jason hoped that The Moon and the Stars and the Night Between Them would become the first book he’s read since freshman year. Thanks for giving me a chance.
The second two books were for the two most annoying, insane, emotionally unstable girls Jason had ever known, his sisters Sarah and Kimmy. Sarah’s break-up with her boyfriend matched up perfectly with when he decided to kill off one of his main characters and so they cried and ate cookie dough ice cream together while watching Say Yes to the Dress reruns. She also had the terrible habit of singing at the top of her lungs so for better or for worse, Harry Styles and Shawn Mendes became big influences as he wrote. Here’s to Say Yes to the Dress and Harry Styles.
And Kimmy was definitely one of the top three reasons why this book was published. As Jason’s little sister, she bothered and pestered and annoyed him constantly and consistently. She made fun of his 3 AM writing sessions, his emotional attachment to his characters, and everything in between. Jason suspected that she just wanted him to drive her places and be the cool older brother that every girl has in the movies, but it still hurt when she bet him twenty bucks that his book would never get published. You owe me $20.
The last pile had only one book. Mak’s book.
Jason sighed. He hadn’t seen Mak in ages. Although all the other books were going to be sent out or passed around at family dinners, this book had to be delivered in person, and preferably today. As he grabbed his keys and started driving the familiar route to her house, he couldn’t help but remember the last time they spoke. Or, more accurately, shouted. It was October and the sunlight was filtering through the maple trees that covered the patio of their favorite ice cream shop. The sun made the bruise on her eye and the makeup she used to attempt covering it obvious, and Jason wasn’t about to let it go unnoticed either.
“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing to his own eye.
She glanced at him as she sat down. “Don’t lose your mind, Jason-”
She had avoided the question but he already knew the answer.
“Really, Mak?” he asked, exasperated. “What are you doing sticking with this guy?”
“He’s not always like this!” she snapped. “He’s going through some stuff right now.” She picked up the menu, just to have something to hold in her hands, and Jason noticed that her knee was bouncing up and down too. “Plus, he really needs someone by his side right now. And I’d rather not talk about it so just order your drink and let’s have a good time.”
He did order his drink but he did not have a good time. As they talked about everything from the latest Marvel movie to Pixar movie conspiracy theories, Jason couldn’t help but notice how she ordered a small black coffee rather than her vanilla latte with caramel drizzled on top, how she always found a way to break his eye contact, and how she kept her hair down even though it was hot and she always tied it up in a bun. To an outsider, she was still the Mackenzie Paull who was kinda quiet until you got to know her, the girl who could organize a charity but couldn’t call to make a doctor’s appointment, the student who wowed all the teachers until they had to decipher her handwriting. But to him, she was his best friend, and that was not something he took for granted.
After they paid and started walking to the parking lot, he brought it up again, and she argued with him again, but her voice was tired this time, as if she was sick of the excuses too. He kept pushing and she kept arguing until she wasn’t tired anymore and her voice rang out loud and clear, angrier and louder than Jason had ever heard it before.
A silence fell between them and it settled over the empty parking lot, dark and heavy. While her voice no longer sounded tired, exhaustion was obvious in the droop of her shoulders, the ever present fiddling fingers that finally stilled, and more than anything, her eyes. “I’m tired of fighting with you, Jason,” she said.
“I’m fighting with you for a reason, Mak,” he replied. “You’re better than that. I can’t just sit back and let you date this guy when you clearly deserve so much better.”
“And what’s that, Jason?”
He opened his mouth but nothing came out. He tried again but all the words that had been tumbling around his brain for the past year became stuck in his throat. The silence returned and even though the seconds dragged out, he could feel them rapidly slipping away as his opportunity to finally tell her the truth closed.
Mak looked hurt but not surprised and when she told him that maybe they shouldn’t see each other for a while, his throat officially closed and his thoughts stopped tumbling around and started tucking themselves into corners where they couldn’t do any more damage.
Those same thoughts were finally returning and getting all jumbled up and tangled together again as he pulled into her driveway. It was dark, but he noticed right away that her boyfriend’s car wasn’t parked on the street, one tire on the curb like it always was. Relief flooded through his entire body and before he could lose his courage, he grabbed the book and started up the walkway. All the thoughts began to tumble again, rapidly, and they were seconds away from being all tangled and jumbled and gross so he walked quickly to the door, muttering under his breath, waiting for the door to open, pleading that she would open it.
And then there she was before him for the first time in months. Her hair was longer, her , and best of all, her eyes were brighter. Before he could think of an even dumber idea, Jason started talking.
“Hey. So my book came today and I just wanted to give it to you in person because I’m super sorry about everything I said and I can’t stop thinking about how we left it all. He’s a total jerk, but I did my part telling you and I should’ve left it there instead of screaming at you about your decisions. I’m sorry.”
He paused, breathing deeply.
“When I said you deserve better, I really meant it. Mak, you’re my best friend. You buy me Goldfish because you know I like them, you laugh every time I fall off that stupid swing at the park, and you make that dumb face with your eyes crossed every single time we catch each other’s eye at a party or something.”
She was laughing now and he’d missed her laugh for so, so long, and he went on as a dumb Cheshire grin spread across his face, the one only she could bring out.
“More than anything, Mak, you’ve read everything from my Heroes of the Clouds series in third grade to this novel, and you’ve been nice enough to mercilessly tear everything apart and then carefully help me stitch them back together again so that I can be the best writer I can be. This book was written because of you, kinda by you, and definitely for you. So-”
She was across the doorway and in his arms before he could finish so he whispered into her hair instead. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Mak replied, pulling back. “I broke up with him a week ago when I found that blonde Applebee’s waitress that you hate in bed with him.” She shrugged. “I stopped crying yesterday and have been trying to work up the courage to come talk to you.”
“I’m really glad you ditched him, Mak” he told her, a rush sweeping him from head to toe.
“And why’s that, Jason?”
But he just handed her the book. Unlike the other books, hers had a Post-it note on a page rather than the inside cover, and as she opened it, it flipped to the dedication page.
To Mak, my best friend, the moon, the brightest being in a night full of stars.
She arched an eyebrow, a slow grin spreading across her face. “Is this your way of finally asking me out?”
“I mean, it’s up to interpretation, especially since the other party involved in this situation just broke up with her boyfriend, but-”
If that’s how you choose to interpret it, then yes, he thought, as she guided his lips to her own underneath the moon and the stars and with the whole night between them.