AstronautA Story by Mika Belland
Sometimes the best way to start loving the world is to leave it.
chapter one: it started with a low light
[Get “Me talk pretty someday”] <- a book I wanted to read eventually
Jupiter Anne Davis didn’t want the dust to make her sneeze. It ruined the moment. She would be sitting there with her legs folded beneath her body, flipping through the photos she kept in that little cardboard box. It had been too long since she had opened the album. The attic had sort of become a hidden chapter of her life, one she only visited when the occasion suited her. Today, it was the anniversary of Noah’s departure.
How long had it been? Three years? Four? However long, she had gotten past missing him. At least, that’s what she always told herself. Especially when she was trying to sleep. She’d lie there and stare at the ceiling, missing the warmth of his body and the sound of his voice. It was one of those sultry voices, one that hummed in your bones and made you listen. Dear Lord, she missed him.
Jupiter sighed and bowed her head so that the small beams of sunlight streaming in through the attic’s single window landed gently on the pale picture in her hand. There was her sister, perched like a bird on the fence that was currently outside. The white paint was chipped and peeling, but that didn’t bother her. She was the cutest little thing… Jupiter missed her, too.
She sneezed again, this time accompanying the body function by spitting a sour curse. There weren’t enough good things in life " ice cream, kisses, sunny days " to erase the terrible feeling of her nose trying to remove itself from her face. Not to mention the fact that each sneeze removed dust from her precious pictures. They were reminders of how long it had been… she never wanted to forget.
Just then, she heard the dull sound of the door’s knocker, echoing up through the floor beneath her. She sighed and set down the photos. [i]It better not be that damned baker again,[/i] she thought as she stood. Her hands brushed down the dingy cloth of her pants, sending little dancing clouds of dust around her bare feet. She listened to the melody of the knocker, rap-tapping away. She decided that it was, in fact, [i]not[/i] the baker (whom had been trying to get her to accept flowers for the past month), but the neighbor who had moved in the week before. She was a sweet old woman who had deemed Jupiter worthy of her never-ending life story. She must have remembered something while making her heavenly peach pies and come to tell her all about it.
She practically slid down the ladder, almost ashamed of how easily she had scaled it in the first place. For a woman who never went into her attic, she sure knew how to do it. It was like a dog knowing how to swim as soon as it his water; what was instinct " in this case, falling into memories " came naturally. The knocking continued while she walked through the hall leading past her bedroom (the one she wished " sometimes " that she had never shared with a certain someone) and into the main room. The wallpaper had long ago faded to a dull gray, but she didn’t mind too much. She was planning on replacing it, actually, the next week. If she could just get to the department store and buy a new pattern, one that didn’t remind her of him.
When she reached the front area of the house, she took one last moment to look in the full-body mirror which hung on the wall. Her long, absurdly shining dark brown hair was curling in all the right places. She never tied it back for fear of being unable to get the tie out. Then she would have to cut it all off and her heart would positively stop and " Jupiter chuckled to herself. That had never happened. Her long nose led a nice trail from the corners of her almond-shaped, incredibly blue eyes. If she wore a yellow shirt, they looked almost green. Noah always said they looked like Neptune.
Jupiter straightened the collar of her button-down white shirt and turned to the door, which was still rumbling like a drum. The neighbor-lady must have really wanted to tell her something. Smiling slightly, she took hold of the rusty knob and gave it a good turn. It hardly budged.
“Hold on, Miss, the door’s stuck. I’ll be out in just a second!” She jiggled the golden handle for a minute, muttering under her breath about how she would need to replace the darn thing. Once she finally got it open, she sighed and stepped back so she could open it. “Okay, so what did you wa "”
Her breath stuck in her throat when she lifted her head. There wasn’t a little old lady standing there. Far from it. A man " whom she remembered being quite pale and detached " stood before her, dark ringlets framing his beautiful face. His skin was a glowing brown, something she wasn’t familiar with but felt was right nonetheless. His golden eyes stared straight back at her, as if to ask her what she was looking at. But of course, she could never read that gaze. It was like staring into a pool of melted amber, with a ring of burnt brown. She felt her heart stop as she let her eyes move over his arms. There were tattoos there; one, it seemed, for every star in the sky. Not a single one of them matched another. There was one of a skull, one of a dancing fire, and one with a heart and a ribbon going around it. When Jupiter peered closer at this one, her curiosity a burning fire in her stomach, she saw that there was a name. [i]Madeline.[/i]
She felt such a painful jealousy that she had to stand up straighter and incline her chin as she looked on him.
“Hello, Noah,” she said calmly, though inside she was trembling. “You look very different.”
chapter two: next thing i knew
[i]She had been married when she met Noah. For about one year, she had been with a handsome businessman from Maine . He was a competent husband, a real gentleman… except she didn’t love him. Well, she thought that she did. Jupiter Anne was absolutely positive, when she said ‘I do’ at the tender age of seventeen, that she was deeply, madly, and insanely in love with him. Not that this helped her remember his name years later, after she left him.
Her grandmother made her wedding dress, all white with lace and beautiful flowers sewn in at every angle imaginable. The buttons running from the base of her neck to her tailbone had been gorgeous and shimmery in silver light. Her bouquet had been white tulips and baby’s breath. The church itself had been old and rickety, but beautiful for what it was. The stained-glass windows showed renditions of Christ’s birth, death, rebirth, so on, so forth. The music playing was classic and heart-breaking. Her grandmother cried. It absolutely appalled Jupiter, but then again she would never say that to the sweet little creature that had raised her since she was " oh, how old had she been when her mother up and left, leaving her with Mama? Seven? Not even that old.
Jupiter and the gentleman from Maine went on their honeymoon to New York . It wasn’t what she wanted, and the loss of her maidenhead was sour and disappointing. He didn’t make up for his lack of humor in bed, that’s for sure. When they returned, she was sore and tired of him, but would never say anything because her grandmother would become depressed. Not that Jupiter always listened to what Mama said " it was just a tradition to hear.
And her little sister, as cute as a button (left a bundle of fuzzy-headed joy in the mailbox at three months old, of all places and times) and only seven years old when her big sister Jupie went away and never came back. But she did come back, of course. She would drag her husband back to her not-so-small hometown, just so she could see Lora Joan, the adorable little thing who loved to balance on white picket fences and box with the neighbor’s cat. “Poor Lora Joan,” people would say (it boiled Jupiter inside), “can’t go a week without getting a fever.”
Lora Joan was born with a special kind of disease. No one knew the name for it; when the doctor came each month with her medicine, he would shake his head and walk out, stethoscope hanging like a noose around his neck and a sad twinkle in his dusty blue eyes. Lora, you see, was very prone to illness. She would be fine one day, dancing with butterflies and singing with the birds, and the next she would be moaning and groaning in pain, dormant in her lacey white bed and hiding her head from visitors because her tummy hurt.
When Jupiter met Noah, it was at Mama’s funeral. It was Jupiter’s duty to bury her right; if there was no other way to put her to proper rest, it was this. Jupiter didn’t let anyone know how devastated she was inside, especially not her sister. Lora Joan had begged not to be left at the big house " the one with ivy covering the wall like a blanket and the red autumn trees dozing in the front yard " with her husband. Jupiter loved that house. She had been loathing leaving, just because of a silly marriage. She had wanted to stay with Lora and Mama. But now Mama was gone, and she had to bury her.
It was a mournfully sunny day. All the people who lived across the street or sold Mama bread or washed her automobile or cut her curly old-people hair came and bid her farewell. The city was the special kind of religious where everyone believed that if you lived to be over 65, you went immediately to Heaven. Jupiter thought it was absurd, but she would never say that out loud " Lord, no.
There were flowers and tears and little white chairs. Someone mentioned that the war was to blame, that she had been so stressed from watching those damned programs that her little heart just gave out. Jupiter tried not to glare at them. The war had nothing to do with her Mama’s death.
“Jupie, help me pick up these flowers, ‘k?” Lora was trying to lift a bouquet that was, as their Mama would say, bigger than her head. There were roses and daffodils and little pink ones Lora Joan had picked up from the side of the road. She had almost been too weak to bend to retrieve them, poor baby. Except she wasn’t a baby anymore, not really. She was grown up! That’s what she was proud to tell people. She had her mother’s deep umber eyes and long brown hair, but she had her father’s nose. That’s what Jupiter always told her; she had never met her own father, much less Lora Joan’s, but she simply assumed since she had seen pictures of their mother. She was an angel, with dark skin and a gorgeous complexion. Jupiter thought she got her fair skin from her father, whom had remained nameless her entire life.
“Sure thing, pumpkin,” Jupiter said with a smile. She gently took the thick stems of Lora Joan’s roses and held them in her tiny arms. Lora Joan had known Mama all her life, but she wasn’t a very attached child. The only person she ever clung to was Jupie, her big huggle-muffin, as she called her. Jupiter giggled softly and tucked a loose strand from Lora Joan’s French braid behind her ear. “Come up here, okay?”
The small crowd of people parted and left a short walkway towards the open coffin. It was cedar, with white paint on the inside. “Mama looks like an angel,” Lora Joan whispered, like a conspirator spreading secrets. Jupiter nodded and bent down to kiss the beautiful old woman’s soft brow. There was a lullaby playing on a guitar not far away, one that made Jupiter turn her head. It was familiar, yet she had no idea where it came from.
Lora Joan was busy watching an army of little black ants march across the dirt path. There was another little girl crouching next to her, the end of her blue flower dress dragging in the dirt. They were a cute partnership, poking at the ants and watching them detour to the grass. Jupiter smiled and went to find the guitar. When she found it, she was faintly surprised to find a man sitting on a stone bench with the instrument cradled in his arms. He was wearing an almost painfully casual outfit. Grey shirt, black pants, shoes that looked like he hadn’t had a new pair in years. His hair was black and messy, a shining mass of curly locks that dangled over his nape and made him look slightly wild. His head was bent over the strings of the guitar, so that she could only catch a glimpse of his face. She hadn’t noticed until just now that she was standing in a small building with no real walls, only white pillars. It reminded her of her lessons on Greek mythology. There was ivy swaying everywhere, and the sun " which had been morbid and depressing only moments earlier " set the man aglow in a way that made her question his mortality.
The lullaby continued, deepening in beauty and rising in sound. His fingers danced across the strings in a fluid motion that dazed Jupiter and nearly made her collapse. It was so beautiful, the way he nodded every few moments and tapped his foot like it was the only time in the world. He was so careful, so delicate with it, and yet he made it sing so passionately that it made her heart flutter. She had a childish thought about how he might treat a woman the same.
Her shoe crunched on a twig, and the music halted like a heart beat. She stopped walking toward him immediately and met his gaze with a gasp. His eyes were the sun, plain and simple.
“What are you doing here?” he asked softly. Her heart, if it had stopped before, leapt into her throat and tried to strangle her. His voice was deep and comforting, but at the same time careful and timid. He looked up at her like she had caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
She blinked in astonishment. “What am I doing here? It’s my grandmother’s funeral, that’s what I’m doing here.” She frowned and looked him over, trying to see if she had missed something at first glance. He wasn’t the brightest, was he?
He shook his head and stood. The guitar made a scraping sound as he set it on the ground. “Not ‘here.’ [/i]Here.[i]” He motioned at the bench, then looked sternly at her. “And who said you had to go to her funeral?”
Jupiter was horrified. “She raised me for more than half of my life! Not to mention my little sister. We owe it to her!”
The man frowned and turned to set his guitar gently on the stone bench. She saw that his hands were big and calloused, but tender at the same time. It confused her. “You don’t owe it to her. Do you honestly think she would want you moping around a place like this?” He turned his golden eyes to her and stared like she was an idol.
“Yes? What about you? Why are you here, if it’s so bad?” She felt a need to protect herself. It was her job to bury Mama, it didn’t matter if she would have wanted her there! She had to be responsible! That was why she had decided she and her husband would take care of Lora Joan from now on. Like she had her own child. But different.
The man rolled his eyes and took up his instrument. He slipped the strap over his shoulder and twisted it around so that it rested, upside down, against his back. “It’s what I do, ma’am,” he said, and saluted her before walking away.
Jupiter almost let him go. Almost. “Wait!”
Guitar man turned and looked her up and down like a magazine model. “Yes?”
Now she was shy. Her cheeks burned and she shuffled her feet. “What’s your name?” She wouldn’t meet his gaze because she was afraid she would be paralyzed if she did.
He smiled slightly, and though Jupiter wouldn’t know this for some time to come, he thought she was a very beautiful girl. If it hadn’t been for the small ring on her left hand, he might have offered to buy her a coffee. But she had it, and so he couldn’t. “I’m Noah. Noah Fairburn. What’s yours?”
Her red lips pulled into a smile as she looked up at him through her long eyelashes. “I’m Jupiter Anne Davis.” As if on a second thought, she added, “You play very beautifully, Mr. Fairburn.”
Noah smiled slightly. “Thank you, Jupiter Anne Davis. I hope to see you again.” Then he nodded, and left.
Jupiter forgot his name, too.[/i]
chapter three: they ripped me from my bed
Noah was sitting calmly at the dining room table. His face was turned to the open window so that the autumn sunlight poured over him and emphasized every curve and perfect blemish in his golden skin. His amber eyes were pools of light. Both feet were kicked up on the next chair, in that casual pose he always had. It was like he was home " which he was, of course. He was in Jupiter’s kitchen, the one they had shared for nearly a year before he left. He looked like an angel in the off-white glow of the kitchen’s tile.
The year was 1947. Jupiter had left her husband in ’42. Noah had left her in ’43. Lora Joan had died " not as unexpectedly as their Mama " in ’45. Jupiter would have near murdered herself between now and then, if not for the blind hope that Noah would come back and still want her. Because she knew, she would always be his.
“Feels good to be home,” he murmured, not turning his head to Jupiter, who was leaning on the doorframe not 5 feet from him. She felt like a child in his presence, all grown and golden in the afternoon light. It hurt her to know that he had been fine without her for those four years. She had dreamed that he might miss her as terribly as she missed him.
“Did you have fun?” She felt absurd, speaking pleasantries when all she wanted to do was grab him and wrap her arms around him and feel his do the same to her. She missed being loved more than anything. But she said nothing of it.
Noah nodded. There was a flicker of a smile at the corner of his pale ruby lips. Jupiter felt a pang of jealousy deep within her. Who had he had that fun with? Had he thought of her? “Yes, I had fun.” Then he turned his head to her, and she felt herself melt in his gaze. There was love there, she was sure of it. Noah spoke the words that she had wanted to hear from the moment he had left. “I missed you, Jupiter.”
She nodded and looked away before she started crying. Why was she so sad? She should have been overjoyed at seeing him, knowing he was alright, that nothing had happened to him " other than the acquiring of several tattoos. She wanted to ask about those.
He must have seen her looking, because he stirred. His eyes fell to the one near his right elbow: the heart with [i]Madeline[/i] on its twisting ribbon. He figured that was the first one he should explain. Noah took a deep breath and pulled his legs down from the other chair. He turned to the table and rested both arms upon it as he stared at a spot which Jupiter could not see. “You do realize that when I left, I didn’t just leave Cape Cod.” His eyes lifted to hers in answer to her unspoken question. “I left you, as well.”
Jupiter’s throat closed and she felt tears prickling her eyes. “I see,” she whispered, unable to look away now that she had met his gaze. She wanted to avoid subtlety, because that never got anyone anywhere. “Did you fall in love?”
Noah’s eyes softened like they always did when she said something that upset him. “No,” was all he said.
Nodding, she moved to sit across the table from him. She stared at the stainless steel top, not having to lift her head to feel him watching her. “But you got a tattoo of her name.”
She glanced up at him for only a moment. “If you weren’t in love with her, why did you get a tattoo with her name on it?” She was on the brink of tears; she had lost the only man she had ever truly loved. He had left her, she had let him go. She remembered what he had asked her:[i] “I have to fly, Jupiter. I don’t know where to, and I don’t know what I’ll find, but I have to fly. I need this. Will you come with me? Maybe… maybe we can find each other out there. Not here. I can’t take it here anymore.”[/i]
And she had said,[i] “No,”[/i] with only Lora Joan in mind. And so she had lost Noah.
His stern frown frightened her. “I didn’t want to forget her. Jupiter… she was a part of my life for four years. I couldn’t let her be forgotten.” He paused and looked at his left hand. There was a small black heart on the stretch of skin between his forefinger and his thumb. He held this hand out to her, so that she could see it. “This was the first, Jupiter. Do you know why?”
She shook her head, feeling much like a child when a parent asked her why she was being punished.
“Because it was to remember you.”
[i]Noah sat on the cold tile of the miniature airport. He had taken the pen from the woman at the counter, who had red hair and a very large, ravenous smile. She would be his pilot for the next few years, they had signed contracts and paperwork; it was all set up and ready to go. He had asked for a moment alone before they actually started up the airplane and headed to California for a month (Noah wasn’t positive he’d make a good surfer, but he was willing to try). It was so cold in Massachusetts; he was ready for [i]heat.[/i] He wanted to drown in the sun.
He picked up the little needle he had [s]stolen[/s] borrowed from the first aid kit on the wall. Who needed that in a place like this? He wasn’t sure how to do it correctly, but he did it nonetheless. He poked himself alternately with pen and needle until he was satisfied with the bloody and black mass that would become a heart. He smiled slightly, feeling proud of himself as he stood and went into the washroom to clean it. You weren’t supposed to put a bandage on it, were you? Noah had no idea, but he had fun admiring the puffy, angry red bump shaped like a heart. Jupiter would scold him with a smile for this one.
Madeline " she was the woman with the red hair and alligator grin " looked at it curiously but seemed to know better than to ask. Then they were on the plane, seatbelts buckled and helmets slapped on. Sometimes leaving what you were used to helped you feel better, or so Noah believed. He felt kind of… free.
When the plane took off, he was breathless. They flew into the sunset, sailed on an ocean of clouds. He had to wipe the tears from his goggles a few times. Madeline never said a word about it. [/i]
Jupiter sniffed and wiped angrily at her eyes. Just because Noah had given himself a tattoo in her memory didn’t mean she would stop hating crying. It was weakness when she could be strong for other people. Maybe that was why Lora Joan had always touched her cheeks, as if she were waiting for the tears that would never come. She did that even on her death bed. She wanted to see Jupie’s tears glimmer in the sickly yellow light her room had grown. But she had never shown.
Noah sat back and looked at the heart for a moment longer before he looked at the window. The frame was cracked from water damage. There was a thin sheet of ivy over one corner, and if he sat in the right spot he could see the soft green light falling like a blanket on the kitchen. He distinctly remembered the bedroom having a window completely covered in ivy. That had been nice: no chance of peeping Toms. He chuckled, which drew a curious look from his lover. Well, she wasn’t his lover anymore, was she? His sunshine eyes looked sadly at her for a moment before he smiled. “You’re crying.”
“No, I’m not.” She turned from him and rubbed the rolled-up sleeve of her shirt angrily across her face. “I’m not crying, okay?” She looked desperately at him. “Okay?”
“Okay,” he said softly. The quiet smile on his lips made her breath hitch. “It’s getting late, Jupiter.” He sat up and pushed away from the table, his hands pressed flat to the metal. “We should go to sleep.”
Mortified, she gaped up at him. “What do you mean, ‘we’?” She didn’t have the words to express her surprise. She would have assumed that he had somewhere else to stay. It never occurred to her that he would come back… and expect her to take him so quickly.
His eyes leveled on hers. “Um. I mean you and I. Go to sleep.” He pointed at the ceiling. “In a bed.”
Jupiter felt a giddy rise in her stomach, but pushed it down with a deep frown. “Noah...” She had to taste his name on her lips once more. She always did. “You’ve been gone for four years.”
“Yes.” He didn’t blink at her words. It was obvious, he thought. He continued that thought, and realized where she was coming from. A smile formed on his mouth as he took a step toward her. He took her hand from its resting place on the table and lifted it, bending so that he could kiss her knuckles. “Jupiter… come to bed.”
She tugged her hand away, unaware of the crimson blush splashed across her cheeks. “I " I have to clean up, I made a big dinner and I didn’t put anything away…” Upon looking around the kitchen, she saw that there was really nothing to support her argument. Not a single dish was out of place.
Noah pulled her to her feet and wrapped his strong arms around her slender waist. She fit perfectly against him " something he always loved. The heady scent of her body made him woozy. That was something else he had always loved about coming home to her every day; he could breathe nothing but beauty for however long he had wanted.
He bent to softly kiss her neck. Her spine went rigid in his embrace, but he knew she would give. She always did. His lips grazed her jaw, pulling into a smile at the sight of her tightly shut eyes. She didn’t want to see him that close, apparently.
Without a word, Noah took her face in his hands and kissed her soundly on the mouth. He could feel her melt against him. Her fingers rose and fluttered over his cheeks, as if she were afraid he would disappear. Then, she seized his hair and deepened the previously tender kiss to the point of passion. He chuckled and pulled gently from her grip. “The bed, Jupiter,” he reminded her.
He watched her gasp softly and smile. “Okay,” she whispered, grinning sheepishly up at him.
Dear Lord, she had missed him.
chapter four: and then they took my blood type
Jupiter sat silently at the end of the bed, hands pressed together between her knees. The bedroom window was cracked enough to let a small breeze in through the blanket of ivy hiding the setting moon. There was a jagged pattern of moonlight dancing on her bare legs and the sheets around her.
Noah was fast asleep, lying next to her. He didn’t snore, which was a relief to Jupiter. It had always been so. Mama had snored like there was a toad sitting in her throat. Not only had her younger days been spent taking care of Lora Joan and making sure they both had the living them needed, but her nights had been restless and long. Sleeping in the same bed as Noah had been a breath of fresh air.
They had come up to the bedroom with the intention of making up for four years of separation. It hurt her deeply to know that he had had sex with women aside from her in that time. The tattoos weren’t as much indication as his sudden increase in confidence. Before, he had almost been afraid to hurt her, or frighten her away. Now, he seemed to know exactly what to do to make her… well, to please her. That, ironically, frightened her to the point of declining him.
“Not tonight,” she had murmured, pushing on his dark shoulder. “It’s too soon.”
Noah had nodded and moved away at once. There wasn’t a trace of disappointment in his shining eyes as he kissed her and rolled over to fall asleep. No doubt, Jupiter felt, he was exhausted from the flight, the travels, the sex with other women.
Jupiter stood and turned to look at him, sleeping on his side with those eerily beautiful tattoos glistening on his skin in the faint moonlight. She felt something like anger boiling in her stomach. He had come home expecting her to accept him with open arms. He had gotten tattoos to remember another woman. It wasn’t just a little heart " like the one he claimed reminded him of Jupiter " but a full name. On a heart.
She swiped a fast hand over her eyes, blotting the angry tears forming there. He was fast asleep, and she was determined not to disturb him. She picked up her discarded shirt and pulled it over her arms. Only the top few buttons seemed worthy of fastening. She tied the ends in a small knot at her center, so that her stomach and the small of her back were exposed. One of her long fingers " with a long, neat nail at its end " poked her belly button. She smiled and straightened her drawers before leaving the room.
When she reached the attic’s ladder at the end of the hall, she stopped. There was a very scant supply of light. She took either side of the ladder in her hands and lifted herself to the first step. When she reached the top, she crawled to the side and felt the floor until she found a small box. She pulled a match from inside and lit it, then lifted it and glanced around to find the long wax candle she kept handy. After she lit it, she waved out the match and leaned her shoulder on the wooden pillar nearby.
She was battling with herself; she loved him so much that she was prepared to instantly take him back, but at the same time she knew that what he had done was wrong and that she should be angry; and she [i]was[/i] angry. Angry for all the nights she had spent alone, angry for all the possible suitors whom she had turned away in his very memory, angry for all the pleasures in life that she had been denied because of his mere absence.
Jupiter could still hear the words he had whispered to her when he thought she wasn’t looking.
[i] Jupiter sat silently at the end of the bed, hands pressed together between her knees. The bedroom window was cracked enough to let a small breeze in through the blanket of ivy hiding the setting moon. There was a jagged pattern of moonlight dancing on her bare legs and the sheets around her.
Her husband was fast asleep next to her. He snored horribly; she never got any sleep because of it.
It had been nearly a week since she had met the man with the religious name. What was it, Moses?
Jupiter stood and pulled on her red robe. She had made it from the leftover cloth of Lora Joan’s Halloween costume from the year before. When she stepped out of the room, she felt the air become colder. If her husband was good for nothing else, he was good for keeping a room warm. She rolled her eyes and went downstairs into the kitchen to get a glass of water. The midnight thirst had always haunted her, ever since Lora Joan had been brought into the family. She would wake up at the most horrid hour and [/i]need[i] a drink of water. Although, now it was digressing into a midnight glass of whiskey.
After she had downed the water, she walked around aimlessly. It was so cold inside, especially since autumn was at their doorstep. There was a nice breeze trickling in through the crack under the front door. She could feel it touching her toes when she stood still.
It wasn’t too early to sit on the porch, was it? Jupiter had never been quite sure what time was suitable to be spent outside. The neighbors would come out to drive to work and would waste minutes at a time staring at her, most likely wondering if her brain had been replaced with rose petals. Not that she minded. It was nice out, who was there to stop her from sitting? And so she sat.
And she sat.
She continued to sit, her head cocked to the noises of the neighborhood and her eyes half-closed in the loving moonlight. She sat, in fact, until she heard a small sound that was too sudden and above all other sounds in volume to belong. Her eyes opened, her neck straightened itself, and she sat forward to look " without moving " for the source of the noise. As she was moving off of the small swinging bench, it happened again. It was a little tap… like a pebble dropping. Or perhaps striking glass.
Jupiter stepped off of the porch and walked quickly " but quietly " to the cause of the problem. If they didn’t stop that, her husband would wake up and demand to know what she was doing outside. He wasn’t the “women’s rights” type. When she reached the front corner of the house, she stepped into the darkness of the ivy and listened. There was another sound. It was almost like the echo of a faucet dripping into a full sink of water. Drip. Drip. Tap.
She peered through the curtain of leaves that hung from the corner of the building. She could just barely make out a form, sitting in the grass as quiet as a shadow. Her eyes widened as they adjusted to the darkness, and she saw a flicker of moonlight pass over his features. There was a jaunt curve of the jaw, a short, button nose, the dark shadow across his cheeks " a sure sign that he hadn’t shaved in at least a day " and the splash of vivid gold which was his gaze, turned in her direction.
Gasping quietly, she ducked behind the corner and held her breath. She could feel her heart beating like a drum in her ears, but she heard nothing from the man she had seen. He was like a criminal, sitting in the darkness and awaiting the approach of a fair damsel. He was like a dragon perched upon a dark tower, breath flickering like gold from his maw.
Jupiter giggled despite herself and listened. There was no sound other than that of her breathing and the soft night breeze. Perhaps he hadn’t seen her. Just to make sure, she leaned out until just a third of her face was peering through the curtain of leaves. She saw him, sitting with his head thrown back so that his mop of black hair shimmered in the late light. Her throat threatened to close as she continued to gaze at him from her hiding place. After a moment, he turned his head. But it wasn’t to her, now was it? His chin was down; he was looking at something on the ground beside him. What he picked up was too small for her to make out as anything harmful. She knew what it was a second later when he lifted his head to the side of the building, lifted his arm, and jerked his hand forward in a classic “throwing pebbles” swoop. The telltale [/i]click[i] sounded a moment later.
Feeling very much like a sly cat, Jupiter inched away from the corner and decided it would be better if she simply went back to bed. But who was to say she wouldn’t open the window and look down to see him? That would be something romantic, wouldn’t it?
[/i]No, no, no![i] She hissed at herself and beat her forehead with her palm. How could she be so stupid? She was [/i]married[i], for Peter’s sake! She couldn’t be thinking about someone else like that. Particularly not someone who played guitar like a god and tossed pebbles at a window that was very obviously hers.
Blushing fiercely, livid with frustration at herself, the young woman trotted back to the front door and sat down beside it. She huffed angrily and crossed her arms tightly over her petite chest, legs splayed like stilts before her. Her habit of wearing a shirt that was far too large for her had settled into her core since she was very small and had to borrow one of Mama’s shirts for a gown. She squinted so as to be able to see the dark fabric beneath her robe, pooling on either side of her silver legs. One of her long fingers traced its pattern across the wood beneath, her head tilted to the side and her mouth set in deadly concentration. She had always wanted to paint, to be an artist, “free of the frame” as Mama would say; she also lacked all talent whatsoever.
Blowing out a breath of dismay, she leaned her head back on the white wall. She took satisfaction in knowing that the tapping had stopped, though it never occurred to her that he might have noticed her sitting there around the corner. Before long, she had drifted off into a comfortably outside-slumber. She loved seeing the stars as she lost consciousness; to her, it meant that there were things bigger than all of them out there, and they were so beautiful that they just [/i]had[i] to shine in the sky. Each pinprick of light was the dream of a child, the wish of an ill person, the hope of a parent. It took her breath away, yet gave her life.
She never once wondered why Moses " or whatever his name was " had been tossing stones at her window in the middle of the night. She wondered why she hadn’t heard it when she was in bed, of course, but it never crossed her mind that he might have an interest in her.
And an interest in her (as she would find out only minutes later when she heard him whisper “Your hair looks so beautiful in the moonlight,” opened her eyes, and saw him sitting before her with the most unreadable expression on his face) was exactly what he had.[/i]
Jupiter felt tears welling in her eyes. She could remember the excitement she felt when she had seen those golden eyes. She could still taste the bittersweet flavor of infatuation on her tongue. The idea that she had loved someone so fully, so unconditionally, and then lost him in less than a week, struck her so hard that she felt like sobbing until she could do so no more. It didn’t matter that he still loved her. It didn’t matter if he had found himself or not. All that truly mattered was the fact that he had left her here, to bear the burden of her sister’s life alone.
Sniffling quietly, the woman (four years older than the age she had fallen in love) looked around the dusty attic and decided it was time to confront her fear. Noah was a sweet soul who loved her dearly, but that was no excuse for him to hurt her so terribly.
The ladder was dark beneath her. She had grown accustomed to the lack of light, though, and so her steps were sure in descent. When she reached the halfway mark, she stopped and lifted her head to stare down the hallway. There was the silhouette of her lover, standing in the doorway with his golden eyes boring straight into her soul. She never could read that book.
“Noah,” she whispered, as if afraid to break the seal of silence placed upon her heart. So long she had waited for him, so many she had turned away because of him. She had ached inside for four whole years. She had watched her sister waste away to nothing, right before her eyes. She had been helpless to fix the dam which released all the terrible things in her life she had only feared as a child.
“Jupiter?” he queried, concern furrowing his brow. He took a step towards her, drowsy from sudden wakefulness and clumsy in his curiosity. To see her face again was like a message sent from God above, a dove with an olive branch resting on its beak. He had, for four years, woken up at random times in the nights and called out for her, only to be drawn back to bed by the snake-like fingers of Madeline. Madeline, the woman he had foolishly followed through the sunset. His freedom had been put on hold by her leash.
And they stared at each other, preparing in their own ways for the storm they both felt growing between them. Jupiter stood tall on the ladder, one hand clasping the rail and the other dangling like an unused surrender flag at her hip. Noah was swiftly gaining his wit. This was a battle he didn’t want to fight, but had been anticipating since the moment he walked out of their front door.
There was some explaining to do; there was no doubt about that.
chapter five: it
left a strange impression in my head
[i]“Your hair looks so beautiful in the moonlight,” he murmured, unable to help staring at her. Her name was Jupiter; how could he forget such a name? He hadn’t been able to get her out of his head since the moment he had laid eyes on her. He remembered every splash of color on her pretty face.
There were some things in everyday life that Noah had realized were beautiful. When he woke up and saw the sun’s fingers swimming through the dust in his bedroom’s air, he saw beauty. When he stepped outside and bent to see the dewdrops on each blade of grass, he smelled beauty. When he played his guitar and tinkered with sounds, he heard beauty. When he went to the graveyard and performed for the lost souls and stragglers from the other side, he felt beauty.
When he had looked up and seen the woman with the stunningly turquoise eyes, heard her voice asking him what he was doing there, been scared right out of his skin because he had believed that he was alone, Noah had experienced true beauty. It was in the form of a woman " what else? It was that gentle feeling that tugged on the strings of his heart and made his mind sing. He just couldn’t stay away.
Noah felt the cold thrill of pleasant surprise when the woman " well, she was more of a girl, wasn’t she; there was no way she could be past twenty-five " opened her eyes and saw him. A fluttering gasp blew past her porcelain lips. “What are you doing here?” she hissed, alarm widening her eyes as she looked beside her at the door, like it might burst open at any moment.
Smiling slightly, he stood and brushed himself off. He had sat in the glittering grass for over an hour before he had mustered the courage to actually throw any pebbles at her window, so his drawers were moist. “Pardon me,” he muttered, biting back his satisfied grin as he turned and trotted down the trio of steps to the lawn. He had gotten what he wanted: to see her once more.
“Wait,” Jupiter whispered. The man stopped his departure and turned his shoulders to look back at her. She was sitting forward, hands pressed to the wood before her. There was a desperate light in her eyes, one that he didn’t recognize. It didn’t match what he had assumed was going through her head.
The girl started to twist and turn the ends of her red robe. Noah couldn’t help but marvel at how perfectly it molded itself to her body. Even in the dark, he could see how it flowed over her curves. The shadows cutting across her person simply emphasized her beauty. “Don’t go… was your name David?”
An embarrassed blush crawled up her exposed neck as he shook his head. “No, ma’am. My name is Noah.” He smiled sweetly and turned to lean on the post holding up her porch. “I am sorry for invading your privacy, I was only curious.”
This seemed to spark her interest. “Curious?” she asked, sitting straighter and slowing her busy hands on the cloth in her lap. “Of what?”
Noah hid his smile and sat down on the top step, turned to the side so that he might rest his back on the pillar. “Well… of you, of course.” He reached in his pocket, slipped out a small piece of plastic and started twirling it between his knuckles like a coin.
In a burst of previously silent passion, Jupiter stood and grabbed his sleeve. “Come on,” she prompted, tugging him off her porch and leading him " by his elbow " down the pebble path. He followed without a word and glanced back at her house with a faint frown. What was she so afraid of?
She pulled him until they were so far from the house that he could only make out the green mass of ivy on its walls. The wind ruffled its feathers at them as they sat in a patch of clover near an abandoned shack, as if trying to hide their… what was it that they were doing? Obviously nothing good, if they were sneaking away from Jupiter’s house to sit behind the cover of thick and red maple trees. Maybe her parents were the strict type, and she was frightened they might catch her with him and punish her… something absurd like that. But when she turned to him and he looked in her eyes, he saw the independence there. He knew that no one older than her would ever be able to control her. He saw the strength in there; he wondered what pain had caused it to grow.
“How did you find where I live?”
Noah blinked. She was a very blunt little thing, wasn’t she? He turned his head from her and leaned back on his rough hands, shoulders brushing against his ear. He lifted his eyes to the sparse stars and smiled slightly. “There are only a few,” he murmured, counting them in his head. One, two, five, twenty. Never enough for him to wish he could touch.
Jupiter lifted her head, trying to see what he was looking at. “What? What is it?” She frowned deeply and squinted her pretty eyes to the point where he couldn’t see their rich color anymore. This frustrated him, so he shifted his weight and reached out a hand to touch her cheek. Her face instantly relaxed, in fact twitched away from him. “What?” Her voice was much quieter, like she was afraid again of capture by some thing greater than her.
“The stars, Jupiter.”
When she looked up this time, it was with a quiet peace. Her eyes were wide and wondering. Her rosy lips fell apart and a delighted smile tugged at their corners. Noah glanced down and saw that her hands were resting in the clover all around her. His eyes followed the path her hair carved along her shoulder and up her neck. The dark brown took on an almost heavenly glow in the late moonlight.
“Mm?” The girl turned her head to him and smiled sweetly. “Yes?”
Noah looked in her eyes and felt his insides shrink. He turned away quickly, glad for the darkness which masked his heated face. “Why were you outside your house so early?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” she quipped, turning to him and crossing her slender arms over her chest. He looked at her and was met with a pout-like frown. As much as he wanted to smile, he had to bite it back. She was being serious. “It’s my porch to begin with; I have the right to be on it whenever I please. You, on the other hand, were trespassing. What were you doing, throwing rocks at my window? What if my husband had heard you?”
A freezing feeling shot through his entire body. [/i]Husband…?[i] Noah turned his head from her and tried to dismiss the numb rock he felt in the pit of his stomach. She was married. Of course she was; she was too beautiful to stay alone for long. But… how old was she? How old was her… husband? How could he not have noticed that at the graveyard? “I… wanted… to see you, before I left.”
He didn’t look at her until she gripped his shoulder and turned him to her. [/i]“What?”[i] she hissed. “You’re leaving? Why?”
Grimacing and swallowing his intense pain, he nodded and fiddled with the loose ends on his pant leg. “I was, er…” He had to swallow to get rid of the dry feeling in his throat. “I was going to visit my uncle. He lives by Silver Lake, he and I are… going to catch up.”
Jupiter relaxed beside him. “Okay,” she sighed. After a second, she fell on her back and reached both arms over her, like she was trying to snatch the stars from the sky.
He grew instantly defensive. “Okay? What, you’re letting me? You make it sound like this choice affects you.”
She dropped her arms and turned her head to him. When he looked, he bristled at the fire in her eyes. “Who’s the one who threw rocks at my window?” Both of her eyebrows rose. “Hm? Who? You did that, mister, so if you’re going to get all angry with me, I’ll just go home.” With this, she sat up and moved as if she meant to actually leave him here with his spite.
“Jupiter, don’t, please.” Noah caught her elbow and sighed heavily. “I’m sorry. I’m a little uptight.”
Her eyes swept over him, like she was calculating the possibility of his lying. “That’s fine.”
It took a few minutes for them to relax again. When they had, they were both on their backs, staring up at the stars with no words on their tongues. They were content with their shared silence.
Jupiter turned to him and looked for a long time. Noah looked in return after a minute. They stared at each other, and then both looked at the sky with a mutual, unspoken agreement. This was their place now.
“When are you coming back?”
Noah inhaled and let out his breath with a deep sigh. “In a week.” He glanced at her and smiled. “You’ll still be here, won’t you?” Her nod was small and pretty. “I want to meet your husband.”
He blinked and frowned. The logic had made sense, until he tried to think of a way to speak his mind. “I want to become a friend of your family. Is that okay? I want to be in your life for a while.” When he looked at her, he saw that she was smiling greatly. “What is it?”
She simply shrugged and continued to smile. “Nothing. Just the stars… they’re so beautiful, don’t you think?” She lifted a hand and waved her fingers slowly through the air, like she was trying to catch spider strings. “I love it outside.”
Noah felt a smile form on his lips. “I love it, too.” He crossed his hands over his abdomen and looked at the twinkling lights above. He was falling in love with Jupiter Anne Davis, and he felt it deep inside. He needed to be a part of her life. He needed to be loved by her.
Just like anybody needed to be loved. [/i]
chapter six: you know that i was hoping
[i]Jupiter Anne Davis had learned early in life that the things people expected to happen rarely took place. Her grandmother anticipated Jupiter’s mother’s return; instead, she got Lora Joan, the daughter of an unknown man, similar to her sister. Jupiter’s childhood friend, Roger, wanted to fall in love and go into the military. He died before he even graduated. Cause: being pushed down the stairs leading to his basement by an infuriated girlfriend.
Jupiter knew that she was meant to be a mother. She saw children on the streets, dancing and laughing and jumping in the puddles left by early spring rains. She smelled their ice-cream stained faces and the sweet scent of berries in their hair. She felt their tiny hands in hers, squeezing her fingers and saying with no words, “It’ll all be okay.” Jupiter fell in love with the idea of making life. She wanted to be able to look down at her stomach and run her hands over the globe of her child, resting inside her. She wanted to kiss their brow and welcome them into the beautiful world with rainbows and silk sheets and outrageous fairy tales.
About six months into her marriage with her husband, she asked to see a doctor. After her husband had left the room, she asked him, “Why can’t he give me children? We’ve tried ever since we were married. Is there something he needs to do? Something we haven’t tried?”
“No,” he replied, patting her shoulder after a good two hours examination. “There is nothing wrong with what he is doing.”
“Then, what is it?”
“You are infertile, my dear. You can never have children.”
Her heart broke that day.[/i]
Noah came towards her and wrapped his arms around her waist. She fell into him, letting go of the ladder as she did. He hugged her close and brought her back to bed with the intention of cheering her up. The sun was rising; he could see the small streams of it pouring in between the ivy which covered their window. Jupiter simply couldn’t greet the day with a frown.
They sat side by side for a long moment, Jupiter breathing sharply with hot tears rolling down her porcelain cheeks. Noah brushed them away with his coarse hand; it only made her cry harder.
“Jupiter, tell me what’s wrong.” Worry was splashed across his face like a crimson flame.
“Nothing,” she whispered hoarsely.
Noah rolled his eyes and pulled her, struggling, into his lap. After a moment of struggle, she gave up and collapsed into sobs, face buried in his shoulder. “Shh,” he hushed, rubbing her back and running his fingers soothingly through her hair, like a father might his daughter. “Shh, Jupiter, it’s all okay. I’m here now. It’s okay.”
His nonsense burned in her throat. “No, it’s not,” she growled, jerking away from him. Anger turned her mouth as she stood and turned her back on him, arms wrapped tightly around her torso. He could see her fingers grappling with her ribs, like she meant to swallow herself whole. “It’s not okay, Noah. It never was. I don’t think it ever will be again.”
She turned to him and stared with grief-stricken eyes. It was like her inner soul was collapsing in a storm of sorrow. “Because you left me, Noah.”
The frown on his face illustrated the deep concern he felt. “I asked you to come with me. You told me ‘no’. What was I supposed to do, drag you along with me?” He stood and threw his hands to the side. “I couldn’t stay with you here, you know that. I had to get out.”
“Yes, but you [i]left[/i] me here.” Her stare boiled. “You made me wonder day and night if you were okay. You made me forget how to live. I forgot how to love the sunshine, Noah, tell me that’s okay!” Sobbing helplessly, she turned from him. “You left Lora Joan here, too.”
A stricken expression crossed his face. “Lora Joan?” He hadn’t thought of her in over a year. “How is she? Is she still ill? Where is she? Why haven’t I seen her yet?”
“Because, Noah, she’s dead!”
Jupiter flew at him and pushed him to the bed, breathing wretchedly and pounding her tiny fists into his hard chest.
“You… left me here… to take care of her! You weren’t… there for me! You weren’t there for me for [i]four years[/i], Noah! Four [i]f*****g[/i] years!” Only a moment of shock interrupted her tirade of fury and weak punches. “I didn’t know what to do with myself! My sister, the only part of my life left, [i]died![/i] She died, and you weren’t there to hold me! You weren’t there to pretend everything was okay! You…” She growled in rage and moved off of him, not even noticing that he hadn’t moved once since she had attacked him. “You left me alone…”
When he turned to her, most likely to spew some worthless words of condolence, she slapped him.
“No! Nothing you say will help me now, Noah! The damage has been done! I’m broken inside, and not just because of you, not just because of Lora Joan, but because… because…” She stood before him, chin trembling, fists clenching and unclenching at her sides, tears spilling unchecked from her eyes. The words she meant to speak merely bubbled from her lips in a pitiful groan.
Noah stood and looked down on her, golden eyes darkened with an unreadable emotion. He breathed in calmly. He sighed, still composed. “Jupiter,” he said softly. “What do you want me to do? How can I fix this?”
She shook her head and looked away from him, ashamed to have made him so… scared. That was the unreadable emotion: fear. She had no idea what he was afraid of, though. “There’s nothing you can do to fix the hurt I feel inside. Not this time.” Trembling with the last of her sobs, she wiped her eyes and lifted her head to him. “I can’t live with you right now. I’m sorry.” A silence so great she felt it might consume her filled her throat. “I’m… not in love with you anymore.”
She realized as she said this that it was true. She wasn’t in love with Noah. She needed him, yes; she had needed him ever since the moment he had walked out the door. She had wanted him every night, thought of him every morning. Her love for him had declined, however, as more and more of her life disintegrated. There were so many things that she had been through since his departure; she wasn’t sure she’d ever be the same. She wasn’t in love with him anymore.
Noah’s breath took a moment to return. When it did, he was stone before her. Not a single flicker of emotion escaped the cage guarding his soul. “I see.” It hurt her to see him so hurt, but she couldn’t lie to him like she had lied to herself for so long. “When should I leave?”
She looked up at him, startled. “Leave? But… you just came back…” The thought of him disappearing from her life made her heart ache.
“I’m not going away like that. I’ll be at my Uncle’s. Unless he’s moved and hasn’t told me?”
Jupiter shook her head and watched him closely. “No… I saw him just last week.” Her thought continued and a faint smile touched the corner of her lips. “He’s missed you almost as much as I have.”
“Mm.” He inhaled and let it out softly. “I’ll see you another time, Jupiter.” A blink covered the golden glow of his eyes, and he bent to kiss her cheek very softly. Just that small touch sent shocks through her body.
“Goodbye, Noah.” She watched him gather his shirt and shoes. The shadow of his hair upon his tan cheek made her wish she had never started crying in the first place. Now, though, it was too late to take it back. And honestly, she didn’t want to take it back at all. She had waited four years to tell him just how hurt she was inside.
chapter seven: that i could leave this star crossed world behind
[i]Lora Joan had a secret.
“You can’t tell nobody, Jupie, or I’ll have t’ cut off your toes. Okay?”
Jupiter nodded solemnly and held tightly to the small girl’s hand. Inside she was afraid that the fingers in her grip would simply disappear. Outside she was eager for untold riches galore.
Lora Joan’s sapphire eyes glittered with a lust for life. Her cherry-red lips were tiny and beautiful and someday a boy might want to kiss them. Jupiter always hoped there would be a boy to want to kiss her Lora Joan. She wanted Lora Joan to grow up to meet boys who wanted to share kisses.
Her illness had taken a vacation. She hadn’t coughed in over three months; her pale complexion was finally growing into something of a sunny glow. There was hope for her yet, everyone was convinced. Even Jupiter’s husband, who had decided long ago that if Lora Joan died, he and his wife would move west and away from the cold winds (which Jupiter secretly found comforting, like a nightly kiss on the brow from a mother), was sure at this point that Lora Joan might make it to her teens.
“Are you ready for my secret?” she asked in a hushed voice, face nearly hidden by the carpet of clover, sprinkled with white daisies. Her wispy honey brown hair puffed like little clouds around her face. She was currently watching a ladybug crawl curiously across the leaf of the clover plant closest to her nose. She looked quite silly with her eyes crossed. Jupiter had to bite her lip to keep from giggling out loud.
“I am,” she whispered in return, tucking a strand of Lora Joan’s hair behind her ear.
The girl nodded, mission in mind, and lifted her gaze to her older sister. “There was a boy outside last week at night,” she hissed, like it was the greatest scandal of all and if anyone heard about it the world would most assuredly end in a tremendous explosion.
Jupiter felt her face burning. “Really? What was he doing outside?” Now she kept her voice a low murmur, pressing into the clover as if she could hide.
Lora Joan’s serious face erupted into the grin of a cat. “He was throwing rocks at your window, Jupiter. I heard it and I sneaked into the hall and I heard at your door. I think he wanted to talk to you, Jupie… did you go see him?” Her eyes were wide and eager, hungry for the information she had wished for during the past week. “Was he pretty? Did he kiss your hand? Does Hubbie know?”
That was her nickname for Jupiter’s husband: Hubbie. Jupiter felt her blush deepening into a shameful scarlet. “I must have slept through it, Lora Joan. Did you go outside?”
Shock appeared on the girl’s face. “At night? No! Mama would tap me if I did that.” Even though it had been two weeks since their grandmother’s death, Lora Joan had trouble believing that she was completely gone from their lives. “’Esides, he didn’t want to see me.” A little pout showed the shine on the inside of her bottom lip. “No prince wants to see me. I’m too sick for princes.”
Now it was Jupiter’s time to be shocked. She lifted Lora Joan’s chin and stared into her sky blue eyes. “Honey, you deserve every prince that sets his eyes on you. You’re such a beautiful princess, you’re perfect. Who told you that you were too sick for princes?” The thought horrified her.
The girl dropped her eyes, looking a little ashamed. “Hubbie said there’s no such thing as princes in America anymore because of sick people…”
Gritting her jaw, Jupiter tenderly touched Lora Joan’s cheek. When she looked back at her, the woman smiled. “I met a prince.”
A hesitant smile touched the girl’s lips. “A real one?”
She nodded and let go of Lora Joan’s hand to rub her back. “A real one. He was very handsome. Would you like to hear about him?”
“Yes!” She gasped and slapped a tiny hand over her mouth, realizing her error. “I mean… yes,” she whispered, giggling like a cherub and curling up next to her sister. “Tell me about the prince. Is he tall?”
“Yes. He is very tall. He has black hair, and eyes that are the color of stars in the daytime.” She smiled and tapped Lora Joan’s button nose with her index finger. “He laughs like wind chimes and he’s very warm.”
“Tell me more!”
“His name is… Peter. Do you like musical princes?”
“Yes!” She was getting bouncier by the second; this was the most exciting thing she had heard since she learned that snow was frozen rain.
Jupiter grinned and nestled deeper into the clover. Her eyes drifted closed and she sighed happily. “He plays the guitar. I heard him in secret. He holds his guitar very carefully; like he’s scared it’ll break in his hands.”
She stopped and listened to the small beating of Lora Joan’s heart on her arm. It was strong, but she knew better than to think it would last.
Suddenly, the girl grabbed her shirt and shrieked. Jupiter opened her eyes and looked at her, fear striking her heart. “What is it? Are you okay?”
But Lora Joan wasn’t looking at her. She was sitting up as straight as a board, arm extended and finger pointing at something in front of her. “It’s your prince!”
Jupiter sat up and lifted her head to see the silhouette of a man. The sun was to his back, but she could see the curls of his hair. It was the man with the guitar, the man who had thrown pebbles at her window. A smile widened on her face. “What are you doing here?” she asked, excited and surprised.
He grinned and squatted in front of them, arms resting on his knees. “I came back from my uncle’s yesterday. I wanted to come and see you.” Only at that moment did his golden eyes leave Jupiter. He looked at Lora Joan and smiled softly. “And who is this little princess?”
The girl giggled shrilly and hid her face in the clover, obviously thrilled to see a “real” prince.
Jupiter smiled and pulled her sister into her lap, holding her close and fighting her excited wiggles with hugs. “This is my sister, Lora Joan.” She laughed as the girl turned and gaped up at the visitor.
The man " whose name she had forgotten again " gasped softly and clapped his hands. “What a beautiful name! Is she a goddess?” His grin widened as the girl burst into another fit of laughter. “Surely I am unworthy of her presence.” He bowed his head with a hand gently touching his breast.
“No,” the girl wailed, squirming and dropping to the ground between him and her sister. “I’m not a goddess. I’m a princess!”
He smiled and nodded seriously. “But of course. Actually… you look more like a fairy to me, Lora Joan.” Another gasp fell from his mouth. “What if you are a [/i]fairy princess?[i] You need a crown!” He looked around and snatched a dropped vine from the grass. With a skilled hand, he twisted it in a circle and twined the ends together in a braid. He inspected it with one eye, then picked a small bundle of daisies and pushed them into place. Smiling at his masterpiece, he reached out and set it gently upon Lora Joan’s head.
The girl leaned her head back and touched it tenderly, her mouth a little ‘o’ of amazement. “Who are you?” she asked in wonder, her voice hushed and awed.
He smiled and sat back, crossing his legs and picking a clover from the ground. He handed it to Lora Joan and watched as she discovered with glee that it had four leaves. “My name is Noah. You said I was a prince?” He was visibly intrigued.
Lora Joan turned to her sister and gasped dramatically, forgetting the amazing four-leaf clover amidst the sea of similar beauties. “Jupiter, isn’t he your prince?”
Jupiter blinked in surprise and looked from Noah to the petite girl. “Um… he… I meant…” She could feel her blush returning with a wicked vengeance, at the worst time conceivable. When she felt she might melt from embarrassment, the sister turned her gorgeous eyes to the angel beside them. “I think he is my prince, Lora Joan,” she said softly, feeling very brave and ashamed.
Noah’s smile was small, but warmed her heart. [/i]
chapter eight: but when they cut me open
Jupiter Anne Davis felt like her heart was gushing out of her eyes.
The sea crashed and raged against the blanket of white sand. It looked peaceful and pretty from a distance, but up close it was a ravenous beast bent on skewing the perfect pearl beach. The clouds that were once a cream and peach color were now dark and pregnant with rain. The winds roared like wild banshees and wailed like children as they tore through her hair.
Cape Cod was beautiful every time she cared to look at it. The sand was always serene and harmlessly gorgeous, the water always tinted that crystal green that Noah said matched her eyes. The clouds, no matter how dark or heavy, always parted to let the sun peer through onto the beach. It was a love/hate relationship, the sun and those clouds. Even if the clouds were gone for a while, the sun accepted them when they returned.
Sighing heavily, Jupiter untied the veil around her waist and let it fall. It twisted like a fallen plane, flipping its lavender ends to the winds before it drifted, like a carpet, to the ground a few feet to the side. It fluttered, but fell silent a moment later. She watched it with sad Neptune eyes until the wind blew sand in her face. When she looked to the horizon, she felt a swelling pressure build in her chest and rise into her throat. The sun was a rich golden color that struck her as very beautiful. Very familiar. Very much like Noah’s eyes.
Pressing her lips so tightly together that they each lost their rosy shade, she walked along the beach with her head thrown back and her eyes closed. Her strong arms covered her chest, protecting it from the brutal winds that buffeted the sand around her. It was a menacing creature that meant to tear her to shreds for lack of a better way to punish her for her loss and love.
Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she walked, not bothering to even glance at the footprints she left in the sand. They faded slowly behind her, filled by the high tide waters. It was as if a ghost were following her exactly, mimicking her every move, and his touch erased all evidence of her existence. She clutched at the sleeves of her shirt, attempting to pull them down to her elbows. When she failed, she simply dropped her arms by her sides and turned her stare to the sky.
“Why me?” she whispered, shaking her head slowly and mouthing the words for each echo there should have been. Her senses were being overloaded with the aura of the ocean; the smell of salt on the wind; the taste of it on her lips, not only from the sea but from her tears; the feeling of the wind tossing her hair as a show of anger, of sand swirling around her legs as if to envelope her; the sound of waves lapping at her feet and of thunder, far off and approaching; the canvas of dark colors stretching across the sky and pouring its emotion like hail upon the sea.
The clouds had rolled in to cover the entire beach. There was no longer a fantasy of white sand; it was all drenched to the point of becoming black. Jupiter wondered what was in the rain to make it so poisonous to the ground below her.
So Noah had left her. He had offered to bring her along, knowing full well her responsibilities to her family " her [i]blood[/i] " were first on her list of priorities. Not only had he given her such a blasphemous choice to make, but he had left her there anyway. He didn’t care about her enough to stay and support her and love her when no one else could do it. He had those fantasies about travelling the world and finding new places. Perhaps, specifically, a place he could call his own. He seemed to crave finding himself rather than his lover. She understood the need to live his life in his own way " like she hadn’t had that problem herself since the day Lora Joan had been brought home " but to buy a plane and a private pilot for four years seemed a little outrageous to her. He could have simply taken them on a road trip. She didn’t understand why he couldn’t have just taken them to New York or some big place where they could have fun. Jupiter had had more trouble concentrating on reading his expression than she did watching her sister die.
Jupiter suddenly felt like screaming at the sky. She could imagine it, looking down on her shame. She would never be what she wanted. She would never break free from Lora Joan’s existence. Even if she was dead, she was there. But Jupiter would never fly.
That feeling developed quickly into an urge. She wanted to scream at the sky. She no longer felt like it, she [i]needed[/i] to. It boiled in her stomach and begged to be released.
Who was she to deny it?
Staring out at the dark horizon, Jupiter squeezed her eyes tight as shut as she could and let loose a cry that would put lions to shame. She screamed her rage and sorrow and jealousy until her throat burned with the effort of letting it all out. The tears returned, spilling over her cheeks, joining the rain that poured on her. Just as she ran out of breath, a huge thunderbolt struck the sea and sent out a crack of wild thunder that rumbled in her bones, as if to pick up the slack. It’s okay to cry, the storm said, you go ahead and let it out.
And oh, she let it out. Jupiter Anne Davis felt like her soul was pouring out of her mouth.
When she was finished, she went and picked up her sandy veil and tied it around her hips. Her short pants were soaked through, as was her shirt and soul. Sighing shakily, she gathered herself and walked back up the beach. When she reached the fence that was no longer white but rather a pale brown, she thought she heard someone calling her name. She turned sharply, hair flying around her face in a halo, but saw nothing aside from the storm, watching her back. She sniffled and wiped her cheek with a flat hand, then continued on her way home.
The walk was uneventful, if soggy and slightly frightening. She loved storms, but being outside during one was " she decided " horrifying. The lightning struck at the most random moments and scared her witless each time. She had begun to believe she could feel the electricity gathering in the air around her. Then a moan of thunder would shake her and she would resume her quick walk down the sidewalk.
When she reached her front yard, she looked up at the dripping ivy through squinted eyes. It covered the house on both the west and south facing walls, and it looked like it was spreading. Shrugging, Jupiter walked up to her neighbor’s door and knocked on the light pink wood. She expected no response, but was surprised when " as she was about to turn and go into her own home " the door opened and a little shadow peered out at her.
“Jupiter Anne? What in heavens are you doing outside on the porch while it’s raining cats and dogs?”
A small woman stood there, looking up at Jupiter through dusty spectacles. Her thin lips screwed into a scowl that could have been perceived as a frightening smile. Her wrinkled skin looked like wet folded paper with dark freckles and pale fuzz. The only thing about her that didn’t look old was her hair. It was long and blonde and covered her shoulders in a flat puff of gold. Her long hands reached out of the house and gently took Jupiter’s arm, like a gentle giant’s claw.
“You’ll catch cold, my dear. Would you come inside for some tea?”
Jupiter smiled and stepped forward. “Of course, Miss Mays. I would love some tea.” She let herself be led through the dark hall and into a cozy little kitchen with all the curtains drawn tightly over the windows. The refrigerator was a clean creamy color, but the handle was a little rusted. The table had a red and white checkerboard tablecloth on it, and upon that was a silver tea set.
“Forgive me, dear, I only poured a glass for myself. I didn’t know I would be having visitors!” Her delight was apparent as she scurried to the counter and fetched another silver cup for her guest. She came back to the table and sat down in her red chair, her frail hands going to work pouring tea. “Would you like one sugar or two?” She looked at Jupiter, and at this time she saw that the old woman’s eyes were crystal blue, just like Lora Joan’s. The crow’s feet decorating her pale skin actually made them look brighter.
She had to drop her gaze so as not to be rude. “I don’t like sugar in my tea, Miss. I’ll take it plain.” She smiled in the face of Miss Mays’s astonished face.
“If you say so, Jupiter Anne. Would you like a cake?” She smiled hopefully and leaned forward, ignoring the tendril of steam from her own cup of tea that played with her chin.
Jupiter shook her head and smiled gently at the woman. “You don’t have to do that, Miss Mays. I should actually be going; I think I left the back door open.” She set her tea cup down without sipping from it and stood, but before she could move any more Miss Mays took her wrist and looked up at her.
“You cannot leave with that look in your eye, Jupiter.”
Blinking in surprise, she gazed down at the elderly woman and frowned. “What do you mean, ‘that look’? What look? I have a look?” She lifted her free hand to her cheek as if she would feel little footprints left by the notorious Look beast.
A combination of lightning and thunder rumbled through the house. Miss Mays let go of Jupiter’s arm and squinted up at her for a long minute. “You have that look, dear. I’d know it [i]anywhere.” [/i]She sighed sadly and circled her silver cup with both of her hands. “You’ve fallen out of love, haven’t you?”
Startled, Jupiter could do nothing but sit down and stare.
Miss Mays took one look at her and raised both her eyebrows, staring down into her full cup. “And by the looks of it, you’ve done it before. Who was it? That nice boy you always talk about?” A small smile touched her fragile lips, as if she was remembering something from long ago. “He came by the other day, you know. Said he was looking for you. He’s very handsome, isn’t he?” She nodded to her own question and sipped from her glass. “You missed him, didn’t you?”
Jupiter was fighting tears, but nodded. “I did. Quite a lot.”
The hostess put her soft, warm hand over Jupiter’s and held it tightly. “It’s your turn to tell me a story, Jupiter Anne. I’m not the only one with a past life.”
There was a voice inside of her, saying [i]Tell her. Tell her something about your life. Share who you were before love. [/i]She listened to it silently for a while, then smiled. “I didn’t love my husband.
“In fact, when I married him, I didn’t even know what love was.”
chapter nine: i guess i changed my mind
[i] Noah liked the sky. It was always beautiful to him. There was never a time when he would look up and think anything negative about what he saw. It could be the bluest of days with pearly clouds strewn sparsely through the sunshine-littered air. It could be dismally grey and cold. It could be windy and the clouds could pass with the swiftness of a speeding train. He liked it.
The only thing that bothered him was that he had only ever seen the sky of Massachusetts. He wanted to see the sky in Texas, California, Hawaii. Hell, he wanted to see it in France. More than anything, he wanted to leave Cape Cod and experience something familiar in different places. He wanted a new life. He wanted to find adventure anywhere he could get it. There was something missing in where he was at the moment, and he was always aggravated to find that he had no idea what it was.
He was on his way to Jupiter’s house. He hadn’t seen her since he had met her little sister, Lora Joan (who was a jewel). Something he had realized in the three days between then and now: he missed her a lot more than he thought he would. As he walked, he fiddled thoughtlessly with the soft piece of sea glass he kept in his pocket.
When he saw the ivy-covered wall, he bit back his smile. It was a downy blanket of ebony green that hid nearly all of the windows. It had been hard for him to figure out which was the bedroom.
He walked onto the porch and knocked gently on the rustic front door. The thought of seeing Jupiter again made his face flush with pleasure. When it opened, he was greeted, not by a beautiful girl with a smile that lit up his heart, but instead a thin man who looked like he might be rotting inside. His coal-black eyes were dull and missing the shine they should have had. His thin lips pulled into a grimace that spoke of heartache. His pale brown hair flopped listlessly around his pale, blotchy face.
Noah’s breath caught. He knew, without even thinking, that this man was Jupiter’s husband.
“Hi, I’m Noah,” he said instantly, sticking his hand out. He didn’t realize it, but his eyes were wide and the rosy blush on his fair cheeks had all but disappeared. He was trembling slightly. “How is your afternoon, sir?”
The man’s eyes focused on Noah’s face, then drifted slowly down his body and back up to meet his eyes. The frown on his mouth deepened by a degree. “My afternoon is very poor. How about yours, Noah?”
Noah swallowed thickly and pushed his hand through his hair, pretending this was what he had meant to do in the first place as he stared up at the thin man. “Certainly better than most, but not the best I’ve had. I’m a tad hungry and a bit more than a little anxious. Is Lora Joan home?” His shaking had taken over his knees and was spreading, like a virus, to his hands. He almost swore he could hear his bones rattling.
“She’s asleep,” said the man, suspiciously narrowing his dark eyes. “Why do you want to see her?”
“I, ah, have… this for her!” He shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled out the shard of aquamarine glass. “You see, she seems like the kind of girl who would want something from the beach, since she’s pale and doesn’t look like she gets out much, so I ",”
“Please,” the man whispered while rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. His eyes were closed, as if he were suffering from a headache. “She’s upstairs in her room. Second door on the left.”
Noah felt his face redden as Jupiter’s husband turned and went back into the house. He felt an instinct to turn and run, not only for fear of the unnamed man, but for fear of being here without Jupiter. He felt naked and bare, and continued to try to persuade himself to leave while he still could.
When he stepped through the doorway, he felt a surge of happiness. At first he didn’t realize why, looking around the sun-faded walls and dull rugs that covered the ground. He looked up and saw the stairs leading to the second story, saw dancing shadows along the railway. He figured it out when he took a deep breath; it smelled overwhelmingly of Jupiter. Her scent had gone unnoticed by him before, but now that he knew where it came from he knew that he would never forget. Lavender never smelled so sweet.
“Upstairs, second door on the left,” said a voice from the next room. It made Noah jump slightly, but he quickly recovered when he turned to see the man of the house sitting on a deep red chair, facing an ember-filled fireplace. He looked very lonely, staring into that black hole in the wall. Noah felt sadness, looking at him.
Before he could let it hinder him, Noah went up the stairs and counted the doors. There were four, and a door on the ceiling at the end of the hall. He assumed this lead to an attic of some sort. [/i]What a large house,[i] he mused, strolling along and admiring the wallpaper paving his way with dandelions and dragonflies. When he reached the second door on the left, he stopped. Silence consumed him and stuffed itself in his ears, making him squirm. The house of a child should never be that quiet. His hand touched the golden handle and turned, then pushed gently until a sliver of grey light fell on his arm. Peering in, he hoped that he would see a little girl sitting on the floor, dress spread like a flower around her, dolls crowding her lap and ribbons spilling from her hair. That was the vibrant girl he expected to observe, the lover of life he had met days before.
Lora Joan was tucked into a lacy white bed with a deep blue canopy. There were stuffed bears and horses surrounding her, nuzzling her with their furry noses and warming her as she lay. Her honey brown hair was limp against her cheeks.
A pang of hurt stabbed Noah’s heart. Why was Lora Joan in bed? Why wasn’t she outside, playing in the grass, climbing trees and seeing shapes in the clouds?
He opened the door wider, fondling the piece of glass like it was a lifeline to his sanity. His eyes stayed on the small girl whose body’s tiny silhouette was displayed by the sheets pushed in all around her. When he stepped in all the way, he saw a dark shape sitting in the other corner. He turned his eyes in that direction and saw a full-body mirror against the wall, and next to it, a stool with a beautiful woman sitting on it.
“Jupiter,” he whispered, suddenly lost in her eyes as he strode towards her. She stood to meet him, and they embraced so tightly that neither of them could breathe.
After the longest moment, Noah let go of her and turned to look at Lora Joan. The eerie silence settled in around them, like dust left after a broom. He felt a small hand tuck into his own and press to the piece of glass, questioning but comforting. “She’s ill again…”
Noah blinked hard and pulled his hand from Jupiter’s. He clutched the piece of sea glass and moved to the side of the bed so that he might look down on the doll-child’s sleeping face. The color had gone from her cheeks, and he couldn’t see the vivid blue of her huge girl eyes. “She looks so small,” he murmured, kneeling next to her and crossing his arms over the side of the bed. A large breath heaved his chest and left through his nose, the classical thoughtful sigh which had plagued him since he could breathe. He couldn’t imagine what could make someone so beautiful inside look so tiny and fragile.
As if to answer, Jupiter sat on the end of the bed and ran a hand through her dark mane. “We think she has a disease,” she whispered, staring into her lap. “The doctor says it’s not getting much better.”
Noah grunted in reply and looked at the piece of glass resting in the palm of his hand. It matched Jupiter’s eyes in color. Smiling slightly, he reached out (noticing the intense heat of her body under his hand, he realized she had a fever) and set it on the flat of Lora Joan’s tiny stomach. He watched for a minute as it rose and fell with her breathing. “But she’ll get better.”
He turned to see Jupiter slowly shaking her head. A frown turned his lips down before he went to stand in front of her. She looked up at him, tears brimming in her stormy sea eyes. She continued to shake her head, lips trembling.
Frustrated, he took her shoulders and shook her gently. “She will.” The fear in Jupiter’s eyes broke his heart. “She will get better. I’ll be here to make her better. I swear.”
A very small smile touched her lips. “You will?”
It only took a moment for him to think about it. “Yes. I will.”
After he walked out of the bedroom to go home, Lora Joan opened her eyes and sat up. Jupiter came back in to see her playing idly with the piece of glass. The girl looked up at her and smiled widely. Sweat drenched her nightgown and made her hair stick to her face in dark curls. Her fever had broken. “Look at what my prince left me, isn’t it beautiful?” She held up the green shard of glass and waved it from side to side, like it was a flag displaying how much she wanted to live.
Jupiter felt her heart swell with happiness. She immediately went to her sister’s side and rained kisses all over her sticky little face, each smack accompanied by a statement of how much she loved her. [/i]
chapter ten: and you know i might have
[i]Getting off of the airplane felt to Noah like being led to the gallows. Madeline had him by the hand and was pulling him past the crates and hanging hammocks filled with luggage and random traveling accessories. The woman’s long red hair flew in his face and splashed him with the smell of strawberries and sex. Her green eyes were fierce and fiery, as well as her blood red lips. Her smile was tingle-inspiring.
All through the trip, the many stops and refueling stations, Noah had forced himself to pay no attention to his surroundings. He had asked to stay in the airplane as long as possible, so that he might soak up the smell and feel that was left of Cape Cod. There was a certain warm chill that he only felt when he was at home with Jupiter. He had wanted to be able to experience the new places in full, without distractions, without any trace of what he had left behind. He wanted each place to have as big an impact on him as was possible. Nothing he didn’t want to see would stay in his memory.
When he stepped out of the plane and opened his eyes, he found that California was much different than he had ever imagined. The sun was actually hot! There was a huge wind that carried his breath away and threatened to topple him head over heels down the sandy slope upon which he stood. It was warm and bright; it was perfect.
The next few hours were spent cleaning the plane. They had passed through a snowstorm over the Rocky Mountains, and ice was still stuck to the tail. Watching it melt in the blazing heat was exhilarating to Noah. All his life, if there was ever frost on something you boiled water and poured it over the inflicted area and hoped it was hot enough to melt it instead of adding to it. Watching this ice just… melt away like that, fascinated him.
When they were finally done, Noah leaned his shoulder on a rather large rock buried immovably in the golden sand at his feet. Its side was smooth and covered in a peculiar green fuzz that seemed to give off its heat. This he pressed his cheek to, with sunny eyes closed, and relaxed his body. The air smelled of salt and something almost too sweet. When he glanced around to look for the source, he saw in the distance a large, white tree with billowing tendrils of blooming flowers. A faint smile touched his lips like a kiss.
“We are done now, Noah,” said a smooth voice from behind him. He hardly had to move to see that Madeline stood behind him, her brown leather jacket halfway undone. Her tight khaki pants were tucked into a rather tall pair of black boots, and her hands were clothed in bright red gloves. She looked like she meant to eat him. “Will you like me to show you where we shall stay?” Her smile was too big; it was like she was trying to show him every single white tooth in her mouth. Maybe it was to frighten him into her bidding.
Noah chuckled at his thought and ignored Madeline’s questioning glance. “Show me the way, Madeline,” he said grandly, sweeping his hand, palm up, in front of him. She grinned in response and took his hand tightly in hers. The cloth on her digits was cold and hard, not warm nor soft like when Jupiter stuck her mitten-covered hands in Noah’s shirt during a cold night. He felt a small wave of homesickness, but pushed it away rather earnestly as he followed Madeline.
They would be staying in a small, new hotel near the beach. The manager bragged about the fact that they could hear the waves from their bedroom window. Noah was tired almost immediately with it, and left the moment Madeline let him out of her sight.
He stepped outside and lifted his face to the sun’s embrace, listening to the screaming seagulls and imagining it was just a hot day in the Cape. Dissatisfaction filled the pit of his stomach, and so he dismissed the feeling and began to walk down the crude sidewalk of dry dirt. Before long, he was simply on a long stretch of beach with no buildings or roads. It was nice to see the plain parts of California, rather than the big-time beach houses and wave parties that he was sure would keep him up at night. The raw beauty of the country was what had always allured Noah to places differing from his hometown.
The sand here was much hotter than that in Massachusetts. It didn’t hold water unless you were right next to the shore. It pushed back on his boots, as if in protest of his marring its perfection. Smiling to himself, he took a moment to sit on the beach and pull off his boots. He decided that he would get a small tattoo to remember the heat when he traveled to hotter places. After a second thought, he tugged off his socks and shoved them in his shoes. He rolled the legs of his pants past his knees and leaned back on his hands to look around him. There were no signs of anyone else, which he found slightly odd.
He stood again and buried his toes in the warm sand, grinning down at his feet like he had just found them after a decade. A thought occurred to him: he would like spending a month here.
After he had wandered at least a mile down the beach, he came upon a small building, half buried in the sand. The burnt orange walls were peeling, looking as if someone had dragged a rake across the concrete. There was a small door-less opening facing the shore, and from it drifted a soft tune. Curiosity tugged at Noah’s heart as he walked closer, listening intently to the music growing in volume. There was someone playing a smooth bass guitar, and a soft tap-tap of drums kept time. He stopped at the corner of the building and stopped, just listening to whoever was playing inside. After a few minutes of the same pretty rhythm, a new instrument joined. Noah felt his skin crawling at the heavy sound of a saxophone, starting quietly and blending in quite well with the drums and guitar.
When the music stopped, he had to fight the urge to start clapping ridiculously loud. Instead he stepped into the open door and struggled to let his eyes adjust to the darkness.
“Hey, looks like we’ve got a visitor,” a man said, his voice followed by a clanging of drumsticks on a cymbal. Noah stepped in further and smiled at the sight before him.
There was a small, dark boy sitting on the ground with a golden saxophone cradled in his lap. Beside him was an older man standing from behind a rather old looking kit of drums. He smiled brightly at the newcomer and outstretched a hand. His shake was strong and firm; Noah admired that.
“Wow. That was beautiful. What are you doing out here on the beach?” Noah asked, looking up and down at the dingy clothes clinging to the thin man before him. His dirty blonde hair hung low in his eyes.
“Oh, nothing,” he chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest. There was a small tattoo on his forearm; it looked like a sparrow with a ribbon flying from its beak. “Just having some fun. What about you?”
The curly-haired man raised his eyebrows and looked around, as if the explanation would be written on one of the walls. He caught sight of another person standing in the corner, and realized that it was the bass guitarist. She was tall and strong-looking, with shoulder-length orange hair. Her clothes were dark and her hand remained on the neck of her guitar like she was afraid it would try to get away from her. She looked up and caught him gazing at her blue orbs.
Noah averted his eyes. “Uh, I was just… wandering around. I heard you from a little ways that way.” He gestured with his hand. “You have wonderful sound,” he said, looking with a smile at the boy. “Where did you learn to play the sax so well?”
The boy’s grin showed a very white row of small teeth. “My friend was giving it away and he taught me how to do it. Do you play, too?” His eager eyes were dark, his hair cut very short on his head.
He shook his head and glanced uneasily at the blonde. This kid was looking at him like he was a steak. “No… I play the guitar. But you three have that taken care of, I guess.” He smiled and met eyes with the man before him. “My name is Noah. I’m just visiting California for a little while, then my pilot and I are flying overseas.”
Surprise touched the drummer’s brow. “Oh, how long? We’ve been looking for a lead guitarist for a few weeks. Perhaps you could show us what you’ve got, and maybe…?”
Noah looked at him and blinked several times. “What, you mean join you? No, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to intrude…” To spite his statement, his eyes turned and gazed longingly at the guitar being clutched by the giantess.
“Well, if you’re interested, I’m Garth Edwards.” Garth pointed to the boy, who was now crouching and rubbing at a spot on his saxophone. “That’s Damon Fischer, and the bass is Marina Sozan. We formed this little band together. We’re The Leveled Hills.” Each member straightened slightly, obviously proud of becoming an organized group.
“That’s amazing. I’d love to try, but right now I should really be getting back to Madeline. She’s my pilot. She’s kind of…” He pointed at his temple and turned his finger in circles. “Very possessive. Where can I look for you, say in two days?”
Garth looked at Marina and shrugged. “My house is a couple miles that way.” He pointed to the back wall and then looked back at Noah. “Just ask around for me, people know me around here.”
Noah nodded and shook his hand again. “It’s been such a pleasure. I’ll definitely come see you.”
He walked out the door and stopped, about to go back to ask if he should bring anything to drink, when he heard a small voice whisper “He is so beautiful. Is he Greek?” At first he thought it was Marina, but then he heard a low laughter that was definitely a boy’s. A hot blush coursed over his face. Damon thought he was beautiful. Shaking his head hard, Noah turned on his heel and started walking quickly back the way he had come.
Once he had forgotten the anomaly of a boy commenting on his looks, he felt a surge of happiness overcoming him. He had always wanted to play in a band. He would sit for hours in his bedroom, strumming away and composing anything that came into his head. He would play for Jupiter and Lora Joan, especially when the latter was sick and stuck in bed all day.
Homesick and happy, Noah realized that his life was only just beginning. [/i]
chapter eleven: just flown too far from the floor this time
The storm was over. The clouds had subsided to a thin white haze, and the air was crisp. The sound of dripping water here and there reminded whoever listened that gravity still worked.
Jupiter knew that it was during this time that breathing was beautifully easy, and her mind, clear. It was when the thick smell of clean air filled her lungs and clarified everything she had been puzzling over. She remembered when she was younger, and she had gone out only after storms, so that her memory of the world was only one of that perfect smell.
She also knew that the moon had magical qualities.
After she had cleared her meager dinner for one, Jupiter went upstairs into Lora Joan’s empty room. The lacy curtain was billowing around in an elegant ballet with the air that floated in through the window. She went to close it, but paused and smiled at the lingering smell of cold air, even as it melted to warmth. When she went downstairs, she lay down on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. The thoughts in her head didn’t quite fit together, as if she were thinking twenty things at once, none of which related to another. She lay for at least an hour, until the moonlight spilled like liquid silver at a downward angle into the living room.
After a short time she grew bored. Not the type of bored a child got if he were playing alone, but the type where she would do anything that anyone told her to do, just so that she had something[i] to[/i] do.
It had been raining for over a day. The ground was mushy and crystal clean, and the air had a sharp taste that cleared her thoughts.
At night, days following this particular type of weather, Jupiter drove her small car to the Lake. The Lake had become something of a sacred area to her, and to Noah. She would only go there at this specific time, because otherwise it would lose its magic. When she and Noah had still been getting to know each other, he had brought her there and declared that it was their new secret place. And although Jupiter claimed to have never cheated on her husband, there had been more than a few nights at the Lake where the line between right and wrong blurred.
She hadn’t gone there since the night of Lora Joan’s funeral. She had convinced herself that the magic was gone from her, now that she had no one to call her own. You see, the mystical feeling which filled her heart when she had known Noah had been beaten down to a tiny shimmer in the pit of her stomach. Lora Joan’s death had been the breath that snuffed the flame.
Noah came back and the fire started again, albeit hesitantly. It was during her nights, lying restlessly and alone, that she realized she needed to fan the flame back to life. And to do that, she desperately needed to find the will to smile again, about anything.
She forced a hum to resonate on her tongue as she drove. The air was silent, without the sound of the decrepit radio or of any other vehicles. She didn’t consciously remember the way, but her hands seemed to recall just fine. Her eyes moved hungrily over the world outside of her moving haven. There was a large path leading into the woods, a few good miles out of the way of any named road. She followed it until her car could no longer go without a struggle (the underbrush had grown quite a bit in so much time), then parked and sat back with a tight sigh.
So, she was there. Well, almost there. She looked out the passenger window and saw something small and colored dangling from a low branch. Unable to repress the smile forming on her chapped lips, she quickly opened her door and got out. Her bare feet didn’t mind the carpet of soft dead pine needles. When she came to the branch, she lifted her hand and gingerly touched the colored object, a hopelessly eager grin struggling to escape her mouth, and tugged it down.
It was a ripped piece of cloth, and although it had obviously been faded by years of sun and rain, she knew it had once been a vibrant red.
[i]”This storm has ended, let us go in peace.”
Noah’s face was completely serene, his lips puckered in imitation of the town Father.
Jupiter giggled at the ridiculous expression on his face. She swatted his arm like he was an insect and turned to flip the light switch. “Shall we go out and smell the fresh air?” she inquired, curtsying deeply to him.
His mocking face dissolved into a mischievous grin as he stalked closer to her. His hands seized her waist and pulled her to him. “I have a better idea,” he murmured in her ear, making a shiver crawl under her skin.
Lora Joan was incapacitated, ill yet again, only this time it was much less severe than her episodes of bedridden disease. Noah had stayed with her for an entire day, playing his guitar and making hand puppets out of her old socks. Jupiter’s husband had gone on a business trip not too far away, and had respectably left Noah in charge of his family. Not that Noah minded; it was just another excuse to stay there.
“What’s your idea?” Jupiter asked coyly, twisting gracefully out of his grip.
He smiled sincerely at her. “We should go to my secret lake tonight, while the air’s still clean, and no one can find us. Would you like to? It’s really very beautiful.”
She got a flash image of moonlit water and oak trees that danced with the wind. A smile of pleasure widened on her face as she nodded to him. “I’d love to. Let’s pretend we’re going on an adventure!”
Noah chuckled and ruffled her hair with one hand as if she were a little girl. “Alright. Let’s go before you change your mind.”
When they arrived, Noah pulled an old red rag from nowhere and tied it around Jupiter’s head. She whined to see, but he hushed her by planting a kiss on her temple. Her body melted in his hands, and with a grin, he pulled her along. “You can’t know where we’re going until we get there,” he said excitedly, keeping her close behind him.
Smiling despite her blindness, Jupiter followed with a light step. She felt leaves whispering past her, touching her face in wonder; who was this new one? The wind rose around them and pulled at her hair, as if asking to play. All the while she held his hand tightly and imagined he were kidnapping her from her life and bringing her to a new, wonderful place. In this place she wouldn’t be afraid to lose the people she loved. She wouldn’t despise herself and wish she could do better to the world. She wouldn’t have to hide her dancing, or pretend she had no interest in happiness. She would dance to Noah’s guitar and the music of the forest, and never have to go back.
She bumped lightly into Noah’s back as he stopped. She felt him turn, letting go of her hand in the process. For a moment she felt lost, dizzy as she tried to find something to hold. She took a shaky step to the side and felt a gentle touch on the palm of her outstretched hand. Smiling, she took hold of it and found that it was Noah’s shoulder. She pulled him closer to the point where she could feel his breath on her face. In her mind, she saw his features. The high curve of his cheekbone which flowed into his jaw… the small dimple in his cheek that appeared only when he smirked… and the dark corkscrews of his hair that drooped down in an effort to hide his golden eyes.
A smile touched on Jupiter’s lips as she moved her fingertips over his skin. She reached his lips and felt him smile, and then her hands were pulled away. He kissed her forehead and let go of her, and after a moment she felt his touch at the back of her head, undoing the knot of her blindfold. When she opened her eyes and lifted her face, she found herself looking directly into his stare. The breath in her body left her in a short gasp. He was more beautiful than he had been in her mind.
With a crooked smile on his pale lips, Noah reached up and tied the red cloth in a tight knot around a low hanging branch. His eyes never left hers. He checked the knot, found it fine, and then took Jupiter’s hand and led her further into the trees, until the moon spilled out from above.
With a reminiscent smile on her mouth, Jupiter reached up to stroke the gnarled knot and its faded tails. After a few moments of staring, she turned her attention to the path ahead. She didn’t notice the thin tears collecting in the outer corners of her ocean-y eyes. Her fingers reached out, gently pushing aside the arms of the trees around her, and she stepped forward. The light around her was a few shades lighter, a little bit brighter, which meant she was about to arrive.
[i]“No one can find us.” [/i]Shivers raced across her skin as she crept closer. Her eyes stayed fixed ahead of her. She crouched slightly as she went. The trees were pressing down on her and making it so she would never make it unless she desired entry with all her heart. That only made it more mind-blowing.
When she broke through, the tears burst from her eyes and spilled like tiny hot rivers over her sunken-in cheeks. The Lake was spread out before her like a melted pool of mercury. There was a ring of trees encircling the Lake, making it feel safe, and above them hung the moon. It was large and silver, dripping tears of light on the flooded clearing. The ground went a few feet in front of the tree line and slid under the surface of the water like they were two sheets of silk, laid one on top of the other. The only ripple on the Lake was the one created by a small, weak breeze which carried the smell of pine trees from the west.
The greatest smile she had felt in years widened on her face. Her teeth were cold to the wind, as well as her moist cheeks, but she didn’t care. This was a place she could to go and never want to be found.
The water was so beautiful, so clear, that Jupiter didn’t hesitate to undress, not for a moment. The air greedily touched each part of her body as it was exposed, feeling, prodding, and making her shiver from head to toe. She ran all ten fingers through her hair and shook it out like a lioness’ mane. The soft wave fell down her back, tickling along the arch of her spine. Though her nudity made it cold, she felt warm inside.
Her Neptune eyes opened as she eased her foot slowly into the pool of light, afraid to complete her exposure with the freezing contact. Immediately, chills rose on her arms. A small gasp pushed her mouth open just before she plunged into the water.
Darkness enveloped her, invaded every space around her, forcing itself into her head and cleaning her aching thoughts away like a foul taste in her soul. As soon as she grew accustomed to the bitter water, she burst through the surface. Her lungs drank in the sweet air and let it free as a hot sigh. The cold droplets showered down on her head as she breathed in again.
This time, when she exhaled, every muscle in her body let go of its hurt. A deep tingle bloomed in her belly and spread aggressively until it reached her fingertips. She let it devour her as she floated on her back, the cold air on her chest and the colder liquid dancing beneath her. She sighed the first peaceful sigh she had breathed in years, and closed her eyes to let her soul drift away on the rippling night water.
chapter twelve: cause theyre callin me by my name
[I]It was scandalous to love a married woman. Especially one you met at her grandmother’s funeral. Noah knew this, and yet he let himself fall hopelessly in love. And by hopelessly, I mean he would give every second of his life to Jupiter’s calendar. He fell for her like a stone through a mountain river.
Noah had told himself from the start that if he wanted to get into the worst kind of trouble, he would keep seeing Jupiter. He would invade her life and seduce her and lull her from the grasp of her undeserving husband. He would give her everything she had ever wanted and never received. He would present the world coated in gold to her on a silver platter. He would give her everything she deserved.
If he did these things, he was sure that his life would become a living hell. Jupiter’s husband would want him dead. He would have to face the reality of the horrific drama he was creating with every step he took within her home. He knew this, and yet he could do nothing about it.
Feeling helpless to her beauty, her grace, her absolute perfection, was what kept him up until the sun rose for weeks until It happened.
He would lie in his hammock, staring at the water-stained ceiling of his small bedroom, and think of the faint curve to her eyelashes. The searingly gorgeous image of her porcelain lips, moving gracefully as she spoke to him, burned itself into his mind. He could almost taste the sweet, summer scent that floated about her in a gentle aura. He knew that, even if he had his eyes closed, were she to walk by, he would know she had done so without a shadow of a doubt. Her smell was enchanting, like a siren’s song for his senses, drawing him closer and making his mouth water. The stale smell of his car melted away each time she slipped into the passenger’s seat. The air came [/I]alive[I] around him, singing out in joy as Jupiter filled it with her breath.
It happened when he came home and found a piece of paper nailed to his door; a note written in a scrawling, messy handwriting that hooked his attention. [/I]
The weather had him down. Even though he greatly loved the dirty clouds that filled the sky until they were emptied of their bowels, he felt he couldn’t bear the weather. It was a lonely cloak that draped itself over his shoulders and weighed him down, so that every step he took was leaden. It was dark misery that replaced the marrow of his bones and made him heavy. Noah felt that he could hardly force himself to move at all.
So, he had to find things with which to distract his tired soul.
First he tried to play his guitar. He sat on the crate in the corner of his room and strummed his calloused fingers gently across the strings. A noise emerged, but it sounded off to him, sick.
He attempted to lose himself in writing letters to Jupiter next, but the old obsession was in hibernation, and his hand couldn’t move to write.
Frustrated with himself, Noah burst from the house and paced the shallow shore of his uncle’s small lake. His bare feet brushed against pebbles that skipped off toward the water. He stared down at the tiny swarms of fish that littered the space beneath the surface. They peered up at him with tired curiosity, like they had seen too many of the same alien. Turning away from the water, he went where his legs took him.
A few minutes later, the hazy sight before him took the shape of his uncle’s leather steering wheel. Without question, he took control and started to drive through the long road that led into the autumn forest. Through the darkness, he saw a hidden path that he didn’t quite recognize, but felt was familiar. It was like a light stain on a newly-painted wall that reminded you of the dark mark you couldn’t quite remember had been there before. His hands pulled him in that direction, and before he knew it, he was there.
The trees suddenly leaned in his way, blocking the path he had been taking. He pressed gently on the brakes and looked around as he stopped. It was dark through the caramel leaves that surrounded him. He opened his door and stepped lightly onto the soft carpet beneath him, his eyes lifting to the navy canopy that hung over his forest. A tiny pair of starlit eyes winked alternately at him, a welcoming glimmer that caught his gaze. Before he dropped his chin, searching through the dark curls that hung low over his brow, he knew where he was. He glanced down in front of the bumper of his truck and saw faint tire tracks leading under the low trees that had stopped his trek. A hot blush rose on his jaw when he realized that he was not alone with his secret Lake.
“How could she love you?”[I] is all that the note said.
He happened to realize that it was in an educated man’s messy cursive that it had been written. [/I]
It rained a gentle shower of tiny golden teardrops that landed on the earth and created a thin, soft blanket of nearly breathing, living beauty. The moonlight dripped from above and tangled in his hair, shining softly on his shoulders as he stumbled with a trance-like haze in his eyes. He could just see the sparkle of the water in the near distance, twinkling like liquid silver through the deep silhouettes of each dark tree.
He was about to break through the tree line, too eager to see, to talk, to explain, when his heel smashed into a twig. The sickening roar that followed made a tremor roll down his spine. His body snapped back from its happy journey and stood as still as stone. His eyes lifted as his body stayed silent, and he saw. He could not talk, he could not think of any words to even begin to explain, he could not think of anything aside from the fact that Jupiter was at the Lake, by herself, after a storm: the only time he brought her.
His heart beat too loudly as he waited for her to look at him. His foot crushing that stick had been enough of a ruckus to wake the dead from an everlasting slumber. Birds had fled in terror, even though it was fall. Hell, God had looked in his direction.
But Jupiter still lay afloat upon the mercury surface of gravity, her Neptune eyes closed under a dark, starry space.
He leaned slowly to the side until his shoulder met a small tree, and then lifted his foot to step off of the trodden path. The silence screamed in his ears as he reached the shadows and knelt to watch.
Her breasts were just above the water, barely a ripple until she breathed. The long curve of her nose melted into her brow and the hair that he knew floated around her. He could see her hands rising and swaying, creating rings in the water and sending the moonlight shuddering away from her body.
Diverting his attention for a single, crucial second, Noah caught sight of the small pile of her clothes. How often had she gone skinny-dipping since he was gone? His curiosity swelled into a faintly red jealousy of her time. Jupiter’s sudden dip under the water caught his solar eyes and pulled his thought toward her with a tight pinch. She was running her hands through her hair, stretching and falling under the water again. He could almost hear her shiver, feel the flesh crawling up her arms and along her spine. How many times had she trembled at nobody’s touch since he had been away? Worry creased his brow while he brushed away the tangles of his hair. The dark stains on his skin caught his eye, but when he looked down he saw a small wildflower at his side. His fingers pulled it up into his sight, where he stared and longed to push it behind Jupiter’s ear, like he had so many times before. He looked out to her and wondered how many flowers she had questioned before he had come home.
The only way to erase those mile-high waves of loneliness that he knew of was to give all of his time to her. He wanted to be there for her always, hold her hand and wipe away her tears and tell her that it was okay, he was here now, he was sorry he had left her. But she wanted him nowhere near her. She had made that apparent with her sheltered presence when she was with him. He could see a flash of skin as she raised a hand to brush his off of her body. He saw the way she had turned her eyes from him and lain tense beside him. She wasn’t comfortable with him anymore.
He leaned too heavily on the trunk beside him and a loud creak followed. His entire body went rigid for a moment as he stared, seeing her rise and turn her head slightly toward him. She was listening, perhaps eager to hear an owl cry, for the sound she knew was there but couldn’t hear. All she had to do was turn completely and she would see his shining eyes staring out at her from the darkness beside the starlight.
But she never did. And his painful longing to tell her, grew.
Three times the twenty minutes it took for her smooth skin to wrinkle passed before Noah saw her drift toward solid ground. She moved slowly, turning and standing above the silver surface. Her skin shone in the blue light as she walked listlessly to higher ground. He remembered the feeling of her muscles moving beneath his touch. He wanted to feel it again, sense the heat rising from her skin, hear her breath in his ear, his name on her tongue.
The weightlessness in her step seemed to have recently risen in vigor. He remembered that it had left her when she had learned of his coming quest for adventure elsewhere. He had made himself watch for a week as the happiness steadily ran away with her tears.
Jupiter’s body moved like a floating aura as she began to dress, still damp from head to toe. Noah felt purpose pulling him forward as his mind raced.
“I missed seeing someone with your bounce in their step,” he said softly, knowing before it happened that she would jump like a doe caught in a clearing with her fawn. “Not many people I’ve seen are as beautiful as you when you’re happy.”
chapter thirteen: and theyre zippin white light beams
The calm feeling in her stomach squirmed for only a moment before settling back into place. His voice had been a trigger in her mind, startling no doubt, but nothing big. And she didn’t have to stand there convincing herself that this was true, either. She knew it the second after she turned to look into his eyes. She had almost been expecting him. Somewhere inside, she had known what her presence meant. She was made to be here at this very moment in time, and so was he.
They looked on at each other for several minutes before Jupiter spoke. The words he had muttered through the silence were just registering in her mind. She understood what he had said, and smiled enough that her teeth showed. It was a foreign easiness that lifted her eyes and made them shine in the dark moonlight.
“Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved,” she whispered wisely, dropping her eyes from his earnest gaze. She didn’t want to see him this way, because she had stopped dreaming about it happening alongside this very script they were following. “I know that I love myself, and so I am happy.” Two of her dainty fingers lifted the sleeve of her shirt above her shoulder. Without pause, she pulled her hair back with both hands and gently stroked it over her chest. Her thoughts were quick, her oceanic eyes wide and bright where she stood. What she said next were words aimed like an arrow for his heart. “So, what are you doing here?”
She could have sworn she saw a flinch at the corner of his golden eye. She would have preached to the choir that she had seen a wince in Noah’s graceful features. She might have only imagined his face for years, but she knew the expression there now better than she knew her own weary cheeks.
After a stretched silence, he spoke. “I missed it here,” is all he said, his eyes fading from her but always returning with the swiftness of an addicted stare. “I missed you.”
Jupiter’s quaint smile hardly reached the corner of her lips. She had felt little anger toward him for the past four empty years, but she felt a surge of spite mounting inside her. “I missed a lot of things.”
Again: the grimace.
She remembered the silence as it filled her soul and stripped her bare. She felt naked before him, and yet so controlled. She was a time bomb in the subtle starlight.
“I’m sorry,” he began, but Jupiter cut him off with a sharp hiss. Her narrowed eyes cut like molten steel.
“You’re ‘sorry’? For what, Noah? Be specific; there’s a lot to be sorry for. Many things happened after you left. I went crazy. My happiness all but burst into flames. Every waking moment was hell. Every minute I slept, I had nightmares. I couldn’t eat any more than I needed to live. I couldn’t leave my house without feeling exposed to the world. I’ve never felt more vulnerable in my [i]life.[/i]” She watched him as the words dripped like venom from her lips. She could see the hurt in his eyes. She saw it in the trembling of his lip, the slight tilt of his head as he stared at her, horrified.
“But it’s okay now,” she sighed, turning her head so that he wouldn’t notice the cold twinkle in her eye that was growing into a hot ember. “I’m okay now. My heart is mended. It took so long,” she reminded him. She would never let him forget. “But I’m okay.”
She looked back at him. He was defenseless. She knew it.
“But I don’t even care about what you did to me.” He was curious now; there was a hopeful lift in his chin. She couldn’t bear it. She stared right into his soul, ripped him apart with the words she snarled next. “What you did to Lora Joan is unforgivable.”
[i]Sunlight bled through the open window but offered no sweet comfort. The air was dust and depression. Every breath Jupiter took felt as though she were swallowing unseen knives and cyanide. Each tear that stroked the skin of her face was like a liquid flame. Her heart beat, her eyes blinked, and she wanted to die.
Of course, she couldn’t. What a cowardly way to go. Broken and alone, watching her younger half waste away, deteriorate, retrogress more and more every minute. She would despise herself in the afterlife if she knew she hadn’t been strong enough for her Lora Joan.
The girl sat up in bed that day. Her hair was a dingy mess of fluff that hung around her small face in a precious cloud. The perfect light shone on the eyelashes of her partly closed eyes. Jupiter was unsure of whether the glamour there was the spangle of wet stars or only the remnants of a tired awakening. Lora Joan’s lap was decorated with a thick duvet, a large book, and several sheets of blank paper. [/i]Blank [i]paper. No words. No drawings. Not an inkling of color, or dormant creativity, an ill child’s imagination.
Jupiter took a leaf and stared at the dull white. It was stained, too faint for Lora Joan to notice but just visible enough for Jupiter to hear it screaming, were tears. Large, pregnant tears that had gushed angrily from her eyes the night before as she sat huddled, just as her sister was now, over empty pages, with a full mind and desolate tongue.
Her hand took hold of the blunt pencil Lora Joan had asked for. The beautifully untalented artist girl had woken from a dream far greater than her waking reality. She had been a material princess, with flowers in her hair and a tiny tiara perched delicately upon her crown. Birds had sung to her and the sky had been clear, clean of pain and weariness. She had even had a prince of her very own.
“I want to draw,” she had whispered in the weakness that was left of her angelic voice.
And here she sat, inspiration abandoned, longing smile faded into a frown too deep for her beautiful little face.
Jupiter waited in anguish for a shape to enter her mind. She had never been excellent at drawing; her family members had forever been poles with light bulbs for heads. Sighing quietly in defeat, she closed her eyes. The memory that filled her blind gaze (Noah gone Lora Joan dead Jupiter dying the sky’s so dark) was painful, and when she opened her eyes again they were filled with tears.
It had been two months since Noah had gone away. The only reason Jupiter was still breathing was Lora Joan, her gem, her precious little angel. Her faint, beautiful frighteningly intelligent sister was also her lifeline to sanity.
“Jupie,” she said very quietly. Jupiter emerged from her sorrow immediately. Her back straightened, her hand swiped absentmindedly across her eyes, and she smiled for her angel. “Jupie, don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying, honey,” she muttered, ashamed to have been caught. “I was just tired. You know when you yawn and tears come but you aren’t really crying, don’t you?” She waited for the smile, the understanding nod…
Lora Joan’s eyes burned into hers for only a moment too long. When she looked away, Jupiter felt like her soul had been ravaged.
“Draw something, baby,” she prompted. She slipped the pencil between her tiny fingers and nudged the papers closer to her. “Draw me your prince. I want to see what he looks like. I want to know who thinks he’s good enough for my Lora Joan.”
The girl seemed to resign to pleasing her sister with a little too much zeal to be exasperated. She leaned heavily over the book, her fragile hand moving to scribble dark lines.
Jupiter sighed in relief and turned to look away. Lora Joan disliked being watched in the art process; she wanted privacy in her perfection.
Waiting for the masterpiece of doodle-quality to be done, she looked around the small room. When Mama had still been alive, she had bought Lora Joan a glass doll for every important holiday. These included Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and of course, birthdays for every year they had been alive together. Jupiter’s eyes followed the shelf running along the opposite wall. The dolls sat upon it in neat, tiny rows, anxiously observing their small master and friend.
She looked like a doll herself. Even more so now that her skin had drained to a pasty white. It was like the firm innocence in her skin had simply melted right off and left her, a sagging shell, in her own infected body. Jupiter looked at this, saw her faint hair and milky eyes, and felt her heart breaking. The light was gone from Lora Joan’s eyes. She wasn’t in love with her short life anymore. This was what tore Jupiter to shreds, inside and out.
“I finished drawing,” said the girl in her tiny, paper-thin voice. She held up a crumpled piece of art, scribbled and beautiful in its simplicity. There was a boy with a blue cape billowing behind his narrow shoulders. The little crown on his sandy-haired head sparkled with a big black shape, meant to represent the light reflected on its jewels. Even a drawing as innocently wonderful as this seemed like the Mona Lisa to Jupiter.
“Oh, baby, it’s beautiful. He’s such a wonderful prince. What’s his name?” she cooed, admiring the work with the most warm, loving, sad expression on her face.
Lora Joan’s brow furrowed into an angry knot. “He doesn’t have a name. He’s not real. I’ll never have him.”
A pang of fear pierced her heart, cold as mountain clouds. “W-what do you mean? Why won’t you have him?” She had spent her life encouraging Lora Joan to believe that she would have a prince of her very own. Someone to love her and hold her and take care of her when she was sick was the dream Jupiter had always wanted to make this reality, if not for herself than for the joy of her sister.
Lora Joan’s all-knowing child’s eyes turned to meet hers. A chill ran down Jupiter’s spine. “If a prince like Noah leaves my beautiful Jupiter, why would any prince want me?”
The fear turned into true pain in her heart. It filled her stomach like hot metal and made her eyes prickle with tears. “No…” she muttered, bringing the small child closer in her arms. Her skin was fevered, her body frail. “No, no, no, Lora Joan, it’s not true.” The desperation in her whispers was thick; her throat threatened to close completely. “He didn’t leave, he went on an adventure. He had to go find a better place for a little while. He’ll be back. You’ll see.” With every word that fell like fluorescent lies from her lips she sank deeper and deeper into the lake of pain. “He’s just…lost…”
“No, he’s not.”
The words, in her quiet and haunting voice, made Jupiter’s breath leave in a short gasp. She sobbed to herself in a frenzy of ultimate despair. How did she expect to do this? How did she mean to survive the disappearance of yet another piece of her heart?
Her petal lip trembled pitifully as crystal tears coated her bright eyes. The wisdom which had glowed under her skin was now gone, leaving instead a timid, frightened little girl who was watching her big sister cry. “Oh, Lora, it’s okay,” she whispered, holding her close and nuzzling into her hair. She smelled of soap and sunshine. “I’m sorry. Don’t be sad. It’s okay, I’m here.” Her eyes turned urgently over the bed, the small table beside the bed, anywhere she might find something to fix this. Finally her gaze landed on a shard of something slightly green, and faintly familiar.
The sea-glass lay as good as shattered, but never forgotten, alone in the corner of the room.
“Look, Lora Joan,” she whispered, turning the girl and pointing out at her discovery. “The glass. It’s magical, remember? Your prince left it for you. It’ll make you healthy again!” She let go of the hot creature in her embrace and went to retrieve the glass that was a direct descendent of her marine gaze. She picked it up carefully, only using the tips of her pale fingers, and returned to hold it out as an offering of happiness and peace. “See? Isn’t it beautiful?” Her hand lifted, fingers brushing at the sticky hair across Lora Joan’s brow. “It’s beautiful, just like you, princess.” Earnestly, she placed the shard of Neptune in the palm of her sister’s hand. “It always made you healthy,” she whispered hopefully.
Lora Joan looked up at her once more, this time with a frightened glint to her eyes. “I won’t get better this time.” [/i]
chapter fourteen: disregarding bombs and satellites
There was a brilliance that was slowly becoming greater in the minds of the people. It was a wild theory, something recently proposed and not very popular. Most people disbelieved it. It was blasphemous! It was the idea that the universe had been created in a bright flash of exploding hot gases. There wasn’t a name for it yet, but it was described as a silent camera flash that blinded you instantly.
Jupiter’s shining eyes were more intense than the prospect of this. He could see the anger there. It glowed with the light of a thousand stars. Her pale, cold lips parted and uttered the words: “You left her to die.”
Noah’s brow creased deeper. Fear sat like a frozen sun in his stomach. Fear for Jupiter and the way she looked. Her eyes barely hid a deep and angry sorrow. She said she was okay, even though every action she took proved that she held a grudge against him. He didn’t understand why. Lora Joan had been a sick child living with a needy sister. No one expected her to live half of the life she had. She made an impact on the world she lived in. Wasn’t that enough? He felt fear for himself. Would she ever forgive him? Could she ever take him back? Could he go on if she didn’t? He feared being alone. He was terrified of losing Jupiter, his world, the gravity to his steps, the breath in his body. He was afraid that she wouldn’t give him the opportunity to cure this wound. He was scared that there was no way to revoke the greatest mistake in his life.
Beside this fear lay a deep and aching homesickness. He had been away from his homeland " where he was born and raised, where he went to school, where he fell in love " for four years. He had decided at a certain point that it was time to come home and face his fears. He had planned everything perfectly. He would arrive on this day, do these things for her… It was perfect. He had dreamed about how it would be.
[i]He comes to the porch, suitcase in hand, sand shimmering from his hair, dirt still under his nails, the smell of the sun fresh on his skin. He touches the door that used to be so familiar. Time has passed; he knows this well. The ivy that sprouted elegantly from the outer wall has stretched toward him, dripping eager green fingers to welcome him.
It is good to be home.
He opens the door. It creaks gently, like a small voice calling to the house, “I’m home now, I’m home.” The silence is disturbed only by the distant sound of the radio she always used to leave on. He knows that she does everything with that radio turned on. He can almost see her, his radiant Jupiter. She wipes down the dishes, she creases clothes, she dances to herself, she makes love… He can smell her in the air. How sweet the scent. He had dreamed about it and never quite gotten it right. Here it was again.
She is in their bedroom. She is reading a book. He cannot see the cover; he has never had the best vision. He doesn’t even bother to squint. He knows that she is reading a book he has left behind for her. While he stands in the doorway, taking in the image he has created in his mind for months, she continues to not notice him. He sets down his suitcase. She does not see. He clears his throat. Now, she lifts her head. Her hair floats in clouds of brown sugar past her face. Her eyes turn on like lights, like she hasn’t looked on a single thing she enjoyed this much in years. There is a glow that instantly appears in her skin. She is light on her feet as she comes to him.
She is in his arms, holding him, crying soft tears, kissing everywhere she can, asking how he is, why is he back, did he miss her, what was it like, where did he go, what are all these tattoos for?
And he smiles. “Let me tell you.” [/i]
But that is not how it was. He wasn’t welcome in his own home. The woman he loved practically hated him, blaming him for her sister’s death.
Jupiter said in a high, cracking voice, “She was okay until you were gone.” Horror shone in her eyes as she remembered all the things that she had wanted to say to him. Her delicate chin trembled like an autumn leaf unwilling to fall. “She believed that you could save her. You promised she would be okay.”
Noah shook his head slowly, not seeing her logic in this. He knew that she was highly stressed about Lora Joan’s death. He just didn’t know how it came down to him to take the blame. “Jupiter, I… I’m sorry, but she’s gone. There’s nothing that can be done.”
Her mental dam exploded into words that drowned him. “What you did to me was okay. I’m still here to forgive you. I can be fixed. I understand what’s going on; I can take care of myself. But Lora Joan is dead and it’s not okay because she can’t forgive you!” Her hands were clenched into fists. Water dripped coldly from her long hair and splashed on the ground before her bare feet. The moon shone down on her face and he saw the contortion. “You promised!
“You lied to her!
“You broke her heart!
“The day you left, she couldn’t even say my name, she was so weak!
“I had to watch for a f*****g [i]year[/i] as my entire world disintegrated around me. I couldn’t save her!
“Why did she have to trust you? Why did she let you affect her that way? Why couldn’t she trust [i]me?[/i] How come she chose to die the same day I realized I hated you?
[i] “How could you let this happen to my angel?”[/i]
She sobbed raggedly, then fell to her knees. Noah rushed up to help her, but she pushed him away and moved away. He was relentless, determined to console her. She moaned and held her arms to him, trembling with the effort of keeping him at bay. “No…” she whimpered, shaking her head weakly and spilling shining tears. He finally locked his arms around her and pushed her face into his neck. His fingers pushed into her hair, gently stroking and comforting her.
“Shh, it’s okay, baby,” he murmured, pulling his fingers softly through her hair again and again. He rested his cheek on her head as she relaxed. He smiled faintly at memories of this being the only way he could calm her down. She seemed to turn to putty in his arms when he touched her hair. “It’s all okay, Jupiter. I’m here now. Lora Joan loved you. She was sick. She kept getting sicker, but honey, she would have passed away whether or not I had stayed.”
Jupiter made a pitiful sound of disbelief. “No, it’s your fault.”
“No, it’s not,” he said reassuringly, hugging her tightly against him. The ground was cold beneath them, but he didn’t care. “She was sick practically from birth. Doctors thought she wouldn’t make it to four years old. It’s a miracle that she lived for as long as she did.”
“She is a miracle! She’s the perfect child. She doesn’t deserve this.” She pressed her face softly to his chest, unable to resist the comforting warmth. “She doesn’t deserve any of this.”
Noah nodded and ran his hand down her back. “You’re right. You are absolutely right. She was better than the cards fate dealt her.” He remembered times when he had been afraid to talk to Jupiter, because she would get upset over something he had no control over. He would go and talk to Lora Joan, and she would help him build up the courage to talk to her. It was enchanting, her wisdom. “She was perfect,” he whispered.
There was a soft sniffle. “She was, wasn’t she?” He felt her mood lighten immediately. “She was so beautiful. She gave the best little hugs.”
Noah smiled and held her closer. “Yes. She hugged my leg once and I almost fell over.”
She giggled and looked up at him with wide eyes. “She loved you.”
After looking down at her for a moment, he lifted a hand and touched her nose. “She loved you, too.”
Jupiter flushed happily and bit her lip. “You know, she said something to me that day.”
“Oh?” He raised his eyebrows with interest. She saw this as a special secret, he knew. “What did she say to you?”
Her warm hand cupped around his ear as she leaned closer.
[i]The sun was sick, too. It was like a ballerina that had danced just a little too much. It felt tired. The green curtains that Jupiter had put up over the window shed a strange hue on the room. The bed was occupied by a single, tiny form. She had been there for five weeks.
Jupiter sat next to her, weight barely creasing the sheets, and leaned to feel her forehead. She had not gotten better at all. They were lucky if she got a day of healthiness a week.
“How you feeling, honey?” she asked, tucking a sweaty curl behind the little girl’s ear.
She lifted heavy, dark lids and didn’t smile. She hadn’t spoken in a couple days, which worried Jupiter.
“Can you say something for me? Does it hurt?”
Lora Joan seemed to consider this. She had started growing a few months ago and hadn’t stopped yet. Her legs and arms constantly ached. She gave a feeble nod.
“That’s okay, that’s fine. You don’t have to say anything.” She went about checking all the bruises that had started to appear on her arms. She pressed tenderly with her fingers, ceasing immediately when the girl grimaced with her painted mouth. “This looks alright,” she commented, setting the small arm back at her side. “I bet you’ll get better very quickly.” She tested the strength of a smile that lacked conviction. It didn’t fit.
Lora Joan’s lips turned into the first genuine smile that had been seen in this house for months. “I’m not afraid to die,” she said in a quiet voice. Her Adam’s apple bobbed as she swallowed thickly. “People have died before. I think about the times I laughed lots. That makes it better…” After she let out a soft sigh, she rested her head and eyes. [/i]
“It’s okay that she died.” She looked earnestly up at him. “It is.”
“I know, I agree,” he said with a nod.
He saw that she had finally come to understand: it wasn’t about how she died; it was about how she had lived. Perfectly.
chapter fifteen: oh that was the turning point
[i]Her eyes were silver dollars shining in the dark. She lay silently in her room, hands pressed against her stomach, ears listening closely to every creak and groan of the house around her. Mama was asleep and had been for hours. Lora Joan was having a period of fine health, which meant she was sleeping more. Jupiter was the only living soul in this miniature mansion model home.
Her heart was pattering away like rabbit’s feet in the grass. The silence was crackling, like radio static in her ears.
She wanted to get out.
She was living her sixteenth summer with days full of dreams about a man she had yet to meet. If a herd of horses came rushing at her, she would get past them to her man. She was hot and in love with this man that she knew didn’t exist.
Jupiter rolled restlessly across her small bed. She was growing and Mama hadn’t made her a bigger nest yet. Her ankles were at the foot of the bed, and her knuckles reached the floor. She felt like a child trying to sleep in her doll’s crib. Her head turned so that her eyes could gaze out to the thick, silver beams of moonlight spilling into her room, painting the floor and staining the wallpaper. It was liquid, coloring her hot room with cool mermaid hairlight. She crept out of her bed, wary of the weak boards below her purple rug, and took an empty jar from atop her dresser. A few coins tinkled in the night, but that wouldn’t scare the creature. She closed her hand over the smooth lid, eyes centered on the prize, coming ever closer. She would catch the creature tonight.
Nearly there, she crouched to her knees, carefully leaning out of the way of the beam of light, and produced the open, clear glass container. Her fingers held only one side of it and the bottom, so the creature wouldn’t touch her hands when she caught it. She watched with twinkling eyes as the rim broke the sacred veil that protected the light. It streamed right over her hands, like iridescent water, and filled her jar to the brim. She cried out softly, barely above a whisper, and fell back from the wild thing. She slammed the lid on the jar, clutching it to her small breasts as she caught her breath.
After a moment or two, she grew the courage to look down at her exotic capture. Her hands, gently lifting it, held the prize up like gold. Her eyes widened and her smile appeared for the first time since the last capture. Then the lid to the jar fell and rolled noisily away. She never had the light to lose.
Sighing hopelessly, Jupiter set her jar back in its place. Maybe tomorrow night.
She still wanted to get out.
Forcing herself to yawn, the girl went to her desk and sat in the chair. Her back was perfectly straight, a slight arch showing the healthy posture she possessed. Her hips had done their growing two years ago. She was awkward and beautiful. Her long, dark hair was defiance to her Mama’s sweet Catholic authority. All her life, it had been hacked away to show her pretty face. Jupiter had cried at each haircut her Mama administered, from three years of age to twelve. When she turned fourteen she suddenly stamped her foot down and refused it. She loved her hair and she wanted it all to herself. Mama smiled and put away the scissors.
Jupiter sighed a dreamy girl breath and opened the drawer she hid from Mama. She had let Lora Joan in a few times, but had first sworn her to sick girl secrecy. Lora Joan, in her tiny young mind, thought it was the most fulfilling thing in the world to have a secret with her sister. She would take it with her to Heaven, and not even Santa Claus could get it from her. Jupiter was the ultimate beauty in her opinion.
Inside this drawer was a small book. Under that small book (that was a diary) lay a box. It was hard paper and covered in sparkles and old flowers. After she put aside the journal, she lifted the box from its home. It was light and beautiful in the blueshine. Pushing the drawer back into place, she brought her box to the bed. She sat quietly, her bare feet on the floor, and lifted the lid as gently as she could.
From the darkness, she lifted two shoes. They were not walking shoes. They were soft and pink, and they had fat silk ribbons sewn to the sides. Her heart swelled with secret happiness as she touched them; they were God. She forgot about the box and bent a leg, her hands gently pushing one slipper into place over her heel. She inhaled deeply at the smooth feeling of its perfection. She quickly twined the ribbons around her calf, tying them in a tight but soft bow behind her knee. She did the same with her other, blood rising in her cheeks as she felt her pulse race. This was her (and Lora Joan’s) secret.
The creature became her accent; it melted to her figure and reached around her in an aquamarine flame. She lifted herself slowly on the tip of her wooden-toed slipper, wavering only in the dark, and held her arms out beside her. To the music in her head, she danced. She danced until the walls fell away and the ground melted. Her dancing continued into the darkness, twirling on air, reaching for the stars, circling planets and lights unknown. The creaks of the house around her were a tune, the whisper of the wind a melody. Her fingertips touched, her back arched, her legs alternated defying gravity and her pajamas rustled. It was very strong tonight, the Feeling. But it ended suddenly. Her balance left in a rush and she nearly crashed into her desk, but stepped with her foot to stay standing.
[/i](eyes are watching)[i]
She turned abruptly and saw Mama. She had come in, bleary-eyed and old, to see what the noise was. There she stood in the doorway, her limp night hair falling out of its silver braid. Her eyes were on the slippers. The beautiful, shining, elegant slippers. Then they lifted to Jupiter’s. Tears rested below her lids, patient to fall. Her thin lips formed words but no sound emerged. The wrinkles in her eroding face were deep with a strange expression.
“Jupiter,” she whispered, her hands grasping air. The girl stared, afraid to move, a doe caught in a car’s bright eyes. “Jupiter,” she repeated. She came forward and reached for one of her granddaughter’s hands. Holding it firmly between her own soft palms, she smiled. The tears rolled like pebbles down her worn cheeks. “You are more beautiful than your mother.” [/i]
chapter sixteen: that was one lonely night
[i]The night was as lonely as a dead girl’s teddy bear. Though every second was filled with a sort of adrenaline-rushing excitement, there was a substantial amount of fear.
[/i](what if were caught will anyone ask why were here this shouldnt be happening we cant do this)[i]
Jupiter kept these thoughts in a small box in her mind. They were bothersome; she wanted nothing to do with them. She only wanted to bathe in the moonlight with her man.
Noah was her man. They hadn’t known each other for long, and already he was a part of the family. He played with Lora Joan nearly every day and had begun to eat dinner with them. Her husband hadn’t seemed to mind; he was hidden behind his dark veil of secret depression. He had started to bring Jupiter down with him, and it annoyed her. She wanted to be happy; didn’t she deserve to be happy?
The only thing that eased her worry was Noah. He was kind and attentive; listening to every word she said like each one was pure, instant fact. She saw the say he looked at her. It was a soft kind of infatuation that she realized could become dangerous. Living in the world she did required much more of her than a pretty smile now and then. Her husband would not take it well, of that there was no doubt.
And yet the storm had passed, and the astronaut explorers, lost in a world of aliens, were meeting again.
The Lake was beautiful as ever, quiet as a whisper and as gorgeous as the heavens, and they were pleased. Noah took his shirt off and dropped it to the pebble-covered ground. Jupiter didn’t mind. He kicked off his shoes and rolled up his pants. She watched with mild interest and weary admiration as he waded out into the shallow water. The moon’s light rippled around him and made it seem as though his silhouette was dancing. Her smile widened as her eyes moved over his back. He was handsome from every angle.
Her man turned to her and smiled. His dark curls were shining like ebony sunshine around his face. She remembered the way that they moved in the wind while they had driven there. Her excitement had led her to lean her entire upper body out the passenger’s window and feel the cool wetness of the stormy air on her skin. Music played in her head and it was sweet. It was the choir singing of the coming of a glorious night. She saw it, this nearby future, with gold sparkles and warm feelings. The present was dull but getting brighter, but tonight was going to be brilliant. She would wake up thinking it was a dream " oh, what a wondrous dream " but she would know, in her heart, that it was real.
And so she daydreamed up until the moment came, and she dreamed no longer.
They sat, side by side, looking at each other on the soft sandy beach. She admired his every feature and felt she would never forget its shape. His eyes shimmered with light of Heaven as he looked on her. She believed he was thinking the same thing of her. A smile pulled on her smooth lips, and a twinkle grew in her eye. They would not speak tonight.
In the air around them, there had been a feeling. It lasted for five days.
On the first day, Jupiter believed herself to have eaten something particularly good. Every time she caught herself looking at Noah, she found a warm, tingling sensation in her fingers. It reached to her palm within the hour, and then faded away once she became distracted by something else. She seemed almost in a haze without that tingling feeling.
On the second day, she began sleeping with Lora Joan. Her husband would find her curled up beside her sister, sometimes a protective arm draped across her. She didn’t ever remember going there in the night, seeing as how she fell asleep beside him, but she had suddenly been needing a different warmth in sleep. Her dreams were restless, she knew. She was unhappy beside her husband.
The third day showed a new symptom that was less dramatic. She started to eat more chocolate. She had it in some form or another with every meal, including breakfast. Sometimes she sat at the table, staring at the air with a dazed look in her eye as she ate, slowly, piece by piece, the chocolate at her fingertips.
Come the fourth day, she was shaking. Every breath of air around her made each bone tremble. She [/i]needed[i] to be touched. Her husband’s hand was like a sculpture of a demon’s claw. It hurt her to be under him at night. She would not let him touch her anymore. She wanted something else. She ached for something different. She had no idea what it was.
On the fifth day, they had crossed paths. Noah was jittery and hadn’t washed or shaven in four days. He was paralyzed when his eye met hers. They stopped in their journeys, having noticed the other, and smiled. A moment passed between them and they knew something had to be done.
Since then, Noah had shaved. He smelled clean, and his hair was as soft as silk string. His hands were warm and gentle, pulling her to him. She felt them like hot air on her skin, so light and yet so sturdy. She melted in his arms and felt his breath on her lip.
Gasping, Jupiter turned away. He placed a curious kiss below her ear, making her shiver subtly. She touched his cheek and smiled at him. It was okay, her smile said. He didn’t have to worry.
He echoed her smile and lifted her chin with the side of his palm. There was a single moment where their lips were only a hair’s breadth apart, and they hesitated.
[/i](is this right oh i love you so please let me)[i]
Then their mouths met, and it was wonderful. He tasted like warm summer wind and sweet, sweet love. His lips were as gentle as she had imagined, and more. Her eyes fluttered closed, hiding her gem-studded orbs as she rose into his kiss. Both of his arms held her strongly, his fingers gripping at the cloth of her dress shirt. Her long, light grey shorts were his next target, his touch grinding against her and making trembles run through her. Those shivers were material longing.
Only two words were said in the night.
chapter seventeen: the star maker says it aint so bad
The sun was just beginning to greet the day. Her golden beams stretched out in an attempt to touch the farthest reaches of the continent and warm them until they were tickled. The moon was departing the scene to shine down on the late-night sleepers in other lands. This was the time when the stars began to fall asleep. This was the time the morning glories yawned and lived again. This was the time that Noah chose to begin his new journey.
The first thing he decided was that he had to get Jupiter back. He wasn’t quite sure how he intended to do this, but it was going to happen, one way or another. He would rip the sorrow from her heart and set it aflame. He would dry every tear that had ever spilled from her beautiful eye and soiled the soft, blushing flesh of her cheek. He was determined to become the best for her that he could possibly be. If that wasn’t enough to win her back, then… he would just have to try harder. Failure was not an option; he could [i]not[/i] live without her.
Sitting on the creaking chair of his uncle’s porch, Noah plotted. He schemed and he thought and he considered and he conspired. Jupiter was his life " he knew that now " and there was no way he was going to let that slip away.
The nagging question that had lingered in his head for the four years he was gone: why did he love Jupiter? He knew he loved her, he knew he needed her… but why? He remembered meeting her, speaking with her, learning more about her by the minute. Maybe it was because she listened when he spoke. Maybe it was that he shared secrets with her. Maybe he loved her because she was a part of him, a vital section of his heart, without which he wouldn’t be able to breathe.
He remembered the times when he had been forced out of her life, mostly when her husband had taken her places. He travelled quite a bit, and sometimes took it upon his fancy to let his little wife tag along. Noah despised him. Jupiter was a goddess, an idol, not some business man’s scarf to be worn when the weather suited its use. She was worth more than that.
He recalled the many times he had lain awake in another world, staring at the stars they all shared and thinking of her. Sometimes he had been playing with the beach band, The Leveled Hills, and thoughts of her would float before his eyes like an elusive ghost. Many times he would step forward on the small party stage and everything would go silent, and the wail of his guitar would scream out into the night all the sorrow and emptiness that filled him. After every show, people would greet him with warm hugs and whispers of luck. They could all feel his hurt, flagrant in the night air that tingled around them and sparked on their sun-bleached hair.
He also remembered when he had suddenly returned to thoughts of her, and he would be surprised it hadn’t been on the forefront.
Noah stood and straightened his shirt. It wasn’t too early to pay a visit to the one he loved. Without another thought, he bid his uncle farewell and started on his way.
[i]One night, the sprinkling stars were telling tales to the moonlit waves that danced on the sand. California was beautiful and hot, and The Leveled Hills were showing off their new, instantly popular lead guitarist. Everyone tried not to remember that he was only a temporary hit, for soon he would have to disappear on his journey to himself. Garth, the sandy-haired drummer, was rock-hard stoned. The rest of the band was some sort of intoxicated or another. Noah had been experimenting with a strange combination that left the taste of peach seeds on his tongue. He smacked his mouth in an attempt to isolate the flavor, and hopefully be rid of it, but there was only the feeling that he would sooner taste the sun’s kisses than fix this dilemma in his throat.
Smiles were contagious on the summer wind. Laughter was the same. They were delightful viruses circulating throughout the rocking population of sun-lovers and soul-searchers. This was the Swing beach, preserved just for those who had the potential to be great.
The king of the beach stood. He was tall and mighty; he was a god. His eyes were like auburn flames shining through the night. His hair, as a babe, had been a soft brown; it was now electric sunshine. He raised his arm, high above the pack of beauty-starved creatures. They saw it in sound, in color, in spirit, while the rest of the world watched on in wonder as they flew. Those who ridiculed them envied their happiness. Noah wished Jupiter could see this.
The king waited until silence befell the throng of spirit singers. The air was on fire, electrified, tense and jittery and happy like all of their skin. The king was a lion standing over his pride; they were all eager under his rule.
A cheer roared across the crowds, like a sweeping wave of joy to hear his voice once more.
He smiled and nodded, waiting once more for silence. “Tonight, we are going to play until the stars rain down upon us!”
Another cry of pure delight burst from them all. No one dared touch their glowing instruments, for it was not time. The [/i]moment[i] had not come over them. The king had not signaled it.
The secret of this event was exciting beyond belief. No one knew it was happening; no one would know in twenty years. Only the people here knew that it was happening. By morning there would be no trace but for the fading sandy footsteps. Noah loved this. He could explore the beautiful world around him without leaving his mark on tomorrow. He only wanted to be remembered by Jupiter.
An old man sat beside him. He looked like a wrinkled piece of brown paper. His eyes were coals buried in the folds of his skin, and his hair was long and white. When he spoke to Noah, his voice sounded like a fierce mountain wind. Feathers hung in his hair and he smelled strongly of ganja.
“This place is a treasure,” he whispered in his ear, so that only he might hear. “These young people don’t know the power of their spirits, but it is strong in them. The moon shines on their hearts.”
Noah was entranced by the beauty on his tongue. “Yeah,” he said groggily, staring out at the twinkling lights of candles and smiling faces. Any moment now, they would all begin playing. It was the greatest privilege to start the wild rumpus; only the best music-maker could attempt it. No one wanted to be the one to ruin it, and so the beginning was far from sight. The old man told him that in the past years he had come here, the real show wouldn’t dare to begin until the sun teased the horizon.
Noah wanted Jupiter to know about this. [/i]
The front door of their " no, it was only hers now " house was a strange rust color. It didn’t match the shutters on the windows, which were a kind of a forest green. Noah frowned and looked over the house as he approached it. Not much about it was very appealing to the outside eye. He loved what he saw because he had lived there for almost a year, and the woman he loved was inside. He also feared it because a child had died within its silent walls.
This house was like a book on the library’s topmost shelf. No one could reach it to see all of the history inside. It was just out of range, barely within sight just to tease the thirsty reader.
Noah sighed and stepped up on the porch. His fist lifted and lightly rapped on the wood. He had done this before many times. For some reason, this was the most terrifying. There was an empty " yet heavy as hell " feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. His spine and scalp felt like they had been subjected to ice-water torture. He was so afraid of what the future held. He needed Jupiter, he [i]needed[/i] her, more than a desert needed the rain. He could only hope that she would " [i]could[/i] " forgive him. Or at the very least, tolerate him. He could live with a woman in his life who didn’t love him. He just had to have her there, at all costs. He was prepared to jump from the highest clouds to be by her side. Nothing could stop him from being there.
He stood silently before the door, wary to knock, scared to intrude, unsure if he was at risk; could he actually forsake whatever chance he had at gaining her forgiveness? At the last possible second, when he was sure that there was no way in hell he would muster the courage to confront her, the moment just previous his complete giving in, the door opened and he was met with the most beautiful pair of sea-blue eyes he had ever seen. His heart melted, as did a fraction of his inner fear. Her gaze was tired, yet there was something deep within it that piqued his curiosity. She seemed happy. The sleepiness was just that, a lack of slumber. She didn’t look like her heart was hurting as much. That was a good sign.
“Oh, um... Hi,” he said, forcing a tiny smile to form on his lips. It felt fake, but it was necessary. He couldn’t turn away now; after all he was standing on her porch. She didn’t look particularly pleased to see him… maybe he shouldn’t have come. Yes, that was it, he would leave now. He took a step back, unsure of where to go or what to do. She had disarmed him by walking in " or out " on him. Well… he couldn’t leave. No, he couldn’t. He could only move forward.
Her silence was tense. He waited for her to tell him to leave, order him off her property, call the sheriff, anything. She just waited. He couldn’t find the words to say; they stuck in his throat like cotton. She watched him levelly, her devilishly gorgeous eyes boring right into him, piercing his soul again and again. She seemed to be calculating every flicker of his eye, every twitch in his lip. She was observing him. He squirmed under her scrutiny.
“I, uh… I wanted to come by and see if you needed help with anything. Maybe… painting the door? Or maybe doing some dishes… I don’t care, I’ll be your slave. I’ll even clean out the attic like you always wanted.” He immediately retracted, thinking he had said too much. She wouldn’t want to be reminded of the past, what had he been thinking? He should have concentrated on the present and the future.
Jupiter surprised him by smiling. “Yes,” she said in her angel’s voice. “I would like that.”
chapter eighteen: the dream makers gonna make you mad
[i]The drums started it.
They were deep in the horizon, like a soft thunder coming their way. Noah lifted his head in alarm, afraid an earthquake was coming, but the old man " whose name, he had learned, was Smiling Moon " took hold of his arm and gave him a reassuring nod. “It’s just the drums,” he murmured, gazing out into the early sun beach. As the sound of beating instruments rolled in on them through the sandy hills, Noah felt the tension grow. More and more people knew it was starting, and more and more joined. There was a young girl beside him with wild golden curls who suddenly began slamming her open palms down on a pair of exquisite bongos that sat nestled between her legs. The people around her jumped slightly and then smiled, whispering about what instrument would join next.
The king raised his arms in a mighty gesture. Everyone froze except the drummers. They continued to send their vibrating song, striking every chord of every person’s being, thrumming in their souls and calling to their hearts. The king smiled down upon his subjects; his face was as wide as the moon. The king signaled the next wave of drums; his hand was a paw. The king swung his hips and thrust casually into the air; his aura was that of a peacock, all rainbows and eyes and beauty. Noah watched in wonder as the king’s lemonade hair flew away from his face. Then he danced.
He leapt with the grace of an exotic creature, his arms wide like phoenix wings. Someone caught him and they twirled, buried in each other’s smiles and then twirling in sync. Their skin was on fire, and little wings sprouted from their sun-burned backs. Noah’s eyes watered as he saw them rise and fly through the air together. They were angels on the cool dusk sand.
His head spun on his shoulders. The world around him was a whorl of colors and sounds, the beating of the drums and the sound of dancers calling out to the departing moon. A woman ran, half-naked, past Noah and Smiling Moon. The old Indian watched her as she streaked by, his eyebrows raised and his eyes wide. After a moment they looked at each other, dazed and happy, and burst into giggles together. Smiling Moon’s were more like deep, throaty chuckles. He sounded like a can of nails being shaken vigorously.
As he watched, the native’s eyes grew. The shine popped out and floated away like a bubble underwater, and the large black of his pupils became the air. Noah rolled on his back and stared up at the stars. They were spinning rapidly and screaming down to them. Every little beam was as sharp as a needle, rotating faster than Noah could see. In their sparkling jealousy, the stars called down, “New suns be born this night!” Everyone there heard the stars, and a huge, gay cry rose into the night. The king crowed to the moon. The [/i]moment[i] had come. A pair of violins screamed out and soared through the air. A child slid on the sound waves as they travelled. The sun was coming; they needed beauty!
Suddenly, there was sound everywhere. Not a patch of air went without music, and the dancers filled the sunrise. Noah had taken up his guitar, and he now strummed his fingers lazily and barely heard that he was out of tune. The Indian had taken out a small flute-like thing, and was buried in its sweet tune. Since he was fine on his own, Noah stood and looked up at the stars. They smiled and waved, then continued spitting and cursing at each other. Noah giggled and started walking through the forest of writhing, dancing, music-filled faces. The light of their smiles rose high on the wind and carried their shine for miles. Noah could see them, like spider webs of light on the sky. He bowed his head for a minute, watching his hand as he played, testing some of the strings and then continuing as he went. When he was satisfied with the smooth sound his guitar sang, he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. The music flowed through him and sprang from his fingertips, plucking the strings in a beautiful harmony that all turned to hear. Smiling in his heart, Noah walked. He knew they were all watching. They always watched when he played.
Nervous, he slipped and hit a wrong note. There was a gasp around him, mingled in with the soft sound of instruments playing outside this little bubble of Noah’s guitar. He stopped in his place, ran his fingers experimentally over the wires, and decided it was good. As he continued moving, taking slow steps and swaying with the music, he played. He heard a woman call from the left, but he did not open his eyes. There were enough suns this morning; he need not add two more. But in his mind, the image of a beautiful woman grew. Her hair was long and dark, and her lips smelled faintly of berries. Her eyes were the planets and the seas.
His music grew.[/i]
Jupiter yawned and watched Noah through the kitchen window. It was eighty percent covered with the vines that grew outside, but she could still catch a glimpse or two of his handsome face. He didn’t know she was watching, silent and invisible behind the shining glass. He kept cutting away, the tiny scissors held in his strong hand snipping at the stems of each ivy leaf. She tapped her chin when she saw the determined set in his jaw. From that look, she knew that he was thinking about something intensely. She wondered if it might be her in his head.
Shaking her tempting thoughts away, she continued to do the dishes. The large soap bubbles crawled up her arms nearly to her elbows, threatening to get on her hips and then down her legs. She sighed at the hassle and started drying. Once all from the day before had been put away, she leaned over the sink to watch Noah some more. His jaw was just a tiny bit more pronounced than she remembered. There were a few white hairs growing by his temples. She felt something cold strike her heart. He had gotten older.
The woman turned away before she started hyperventilating. “It’s okay, Jupiter,” she muttered as she grabbed a rag to wipe down the low table. “Just… take it easy.” She sighed and rubbed the back of her wrist over her forehead. A light feeling was building up behind her eyes. She glanced over her shoulder to watch Noah for a few seconds more, then left the kitchen and went to her bedroom to rest her eyes. She looked over at the darkened window, thought of how the vines had grown with her misery, and closed her eyes.
A light scratching at the window brought her back. Her green eyes burst open and she looked around quickly, fearing some strange creature had somehow gotten up into her room. She squinted into the light that surrounded her. Frowning and holding up a hand as a shield, she peered through the slanted shadows her fingers cast. There, at the window, was the sun. And bathed in its warm glow, was Noah. She blushed and rolled out of bed. She felt antsy in there, like he had been watching her. She remembered the times when she would wake up in the middle of the night to find his eyes on her, just observing her slumber. It frightened her that someone could be that interested in her sleep patterns.
She trotted bare foot into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of iced tea. As her lips pinched the edge of the brown glass, she thought of Noah outside her window. She sipped a little of her drink, then started up the stairs again. The room was bright, more so than she remembered before rushing out, and the air was alive. She lifted her eyes to the window, and raised her eyebrows in astonishment.
The vines were like dark veins across the glass… and not a single leaf was in sight. When she had told him, [i]“Use these scissors to cut off about… half of these ivy leaves here,”[/i] and motioned at the vine-covered wall, she hadn’t thought he would actually [i]do[/i] it. She had been sure he knew she was full of it. What reason could she have for removing the leaves, and not the vines themselves?
She watched him silently, sipping her tea and listening to the faint sound of snipping. It was like a serenade from a disturbing dream. She watched the sun sparkle on his golden skin. There was a warm breeze out there; she could see it playing with his shaggy locks. A smile danced on the corner of her mouth, enticing it to be a dreamy smirk.
A single, shining droplet of sweat streaked from the groove of his temple to his jaw. It magnified the sun as it fell, and Jupiter’s eye caught the light. She nearly dropped her glass. Of course, he was hot; she had to bring him tea! She quickly pulled together a cup full of ice cubes and cool, sweet tea. He didn’t like lemon… she left that aside.
Her hand opened the front door and let in the rare, hot spring. A gust of sweet air rushed her, throwing some of her hair back from her shoulders. She strode across the porch, down the steps and along the side of the house. The grass was tall and lush green; it was gentle on her naked feet. Above her lazy clouds drifted by on azure skies, elegantly flashing their dark underbellies through the high sun’s clear light. A strip of shadow coated this side of the house, but would soon melt away as the eye of flame showed its face. In the near distance, a songbird called to its lover. Jupiter came to a silent stop behind the ladder Noah stood on and watched him work for a minute before he noticed her standing there. His hand moved quickly, his wrist flicking to send the sharp scissors chopping a leaf away and letting it float down to the ground.
Noah turned his head and looked down at her with a thoughtless smile. “Hi,” was all he said, and then began trimming again.
She let him work for a little while longer, but finally she said, “Come down, I brought out some tea for you.”
His face appeared over his shoulder once more. “Yeah?” He shooed her away with his hand, dropped the scissors in the grass, and started to climb down the steps. Jupiter saw the dried mud caked in the grooves on the soles of his boots. It looked like a desert right before the flood. Once he reached the bottom of the rickety ladder, she held out his perspiring glass. When his arm extended to take it, the image of birds sprang from his arm. They were so beautiful that for a moment she forgot that they were tattoos.
“Where did those come from?” she inquired, pointing at his arm as soon as he had stopped drinking. Before he answered, she caught sight of a pair of letters scrawled onto the knuckles of his middle and ring finger: ‘LH’. What did that stand for? Was it [i]another[/i] woman? Her name was something like Lauren Hughes, or maybe Linda Hamilton…
Noah smiled and traced the wings of one of them with his fingertip; a blue hummingbird. “These are from when I was in a band.”
Instantly, a rose of pride bloomed in her heart. Of course he was in a band, he played the guitar beautifully. She remembered when he had played for Lora Joan. “What band was it?”
“The Leveled Hills,” he sighed, smiling up at her. “Let me tell you how they got there.”
chapter eighteen: the spaceman says everybody look down
[i]The sand was cool and golden beneath his bare feet. The symphony of magic continued around him, as potent as a woman’s perfume. He smelled the air with a smile as he walked, his senses open to the majesty of the ocean. The nightly lashing of the waves had died down softly, so that the sound of music rose and drowned out the wind.
Noah’s soul poured into every second. The wires beneath his fingers were needles of bone echoing death’s sweet tune. They were solidified tears being torn from their sorrow. Each pounding note silenced the pain in his heart. Who was he? Where should he go?
Finally, the gods of music sent him a sign.
A small wave rushed over his feet, bathing them to the ankles in soft, dancing sand. He slipped in the sinking sand and fell to his knees, nearly dropping his precious guitar into the water. Both his arms encircled it protectively, holding it above the splash as the water came and burst against his legs. His eyes snapped open, and the color exploded.
A single woman sang out into the morning light; it was a scream of passion. Before him, the dancers twirled in coal-black silhouettes and flying hair. The women wore skirts of red and orange, like the sun that watched their dance. The king dove and rolled, leaping to his feet and gracefully twirling on the tips of his toes. Noah knew it was the king even though he could not see his face. There was an aura around him that was unmistakable. There was also one around the woman who took his hand.
The instruments hushed. This was Special. Noah watched in amazement, thrown down on his knees before these gods, holding his music near and dear. The king took his queen and danced slowly with her, stretching from her fingertips to point at the stars that had all but disappeared. The dancers around them twirled slowly and let their skirts bloom like wine-stained roses.
Noah’s bronze eyes followed the queen. Her hair was long, her legs even longer. Her skirt was a deep shade of rouge. The king lifted her up by her waist. She was a crane above him, arms outstretched and legs bent just so that her strange angle looked beautiful. She must have weighed no more than a swan’s feather.
A bird cried out. Then he set her on her feet and she was dancing on her own in the circle of her brethren. The music swelled as she moved, the violins raising their voices with the drums’ beating. Noah remained paralyzed, though his kaleidoscope eyes followed [/i]her.[i]
She leaped into the air, her legs spreading like a ballerina’s. Her hand lifted the strings of everyone’s marionette spirits, and the music roared. As she hit her peak,
[/i](in slow motion can you see her oh how she flies)[i]
a small flock of birds fluttered behind her and scattered to where her fingers pointed. Her hair was like windy grass behind her, reaching past her waist like a falling river. The sun flashed behind her and cast an orange glow on the dark waters behind her. Its rays stretched behind her and blinded him. Jupiter flashed in his mind. She was a dancer, too.
When he could see once more, the dancing had stopped, and his cheeks were wet. The queen came up to him, blocking the bright light with her curvy body. She bent at the waist, hands on her knees as she stared into his face. The sun peered over her shoulder in a golden burst.
‘Hello,’ it said.[/i]
“Mm,” she sighed with a smile. “That was a beautiful story.” She ran her fingers through the broken stems of her ivy. Mama had planted that when Jupiter had turned five. The seeds had been in a little purple flowering pot with a note that said “You are the planet in my universe.”
A small wave of regret flowed through her. How could she let Noah cut this down? This was her heart, her memory of Mama. It was as if she had told him to burn all of her photo albums, stowed away in the attic. She looked down on him with a faint disdain. Her attempts to keep the tiny scowl from her apple-red lips were halfhearted. He was destroying more of her. But that was okay, because he didn’t know it. He had never known what he was doing to her. With an inner smile, Jupiter realized that she would show him. She couldn’t forgive him yet; he hadn’t suffered enough. Secretly, she wanted to hate him. He had torn her apart, shouldn’t he have to pay?
Wandering in her thoughts, she slipped a hand into her pocket and closed her fingers around the small silver case nestled inside. The sun sparkled on the initials, ‘JAD’ engraved on the front as she opened it and tugged out a long, thin cigarette. She closed the holder in her palm and put it back in her pocket, where it was almost always. From her other hip she pulled out a Zippo lighter. With her lips holding the tube and her hand cupping the tip, she lit the cigarette. Her finger circled around and pushed the cap down, and then she dropped it in her pocket. Her green eyes watched Noah as he knelt before her, so concentrated on his work that he hadn’t seen her actions. With her two first fingers she held the cigarette and inhaled deeply. She dropped it beside her hip and blew out a steady stream of smoke.
Noah’s head lifted and his eyes landed on hers. Horror appeared in his expression like a flash of lightning. He leapt instantly to his feet and snatched the smoking cylinder from her lips as she raised it for another puff. Ignoring her startled reaction, he threw it on the ground and smashed it under the heel of his boot. Then he lifted his head. “What the [i]hell[/i] are you doing?” he hissed.
She blinked several times, unbelieving of his gall. “Um, excuse me?” There was a strange fury in his eyes, as well as a quiet whisper of fear. How strange.
“You can’t smoke. How long have you been doing that? You have to stop, right now.” He looked around for something, then pointed at her pocket. “Are they in there? Is that where you got it? Give it to me.” He held out his palm, completely serious, and seemed to be attempting to stare her down.
Jupiter could do nothing but burst out laughing. “You… have [i]got[/i] to be kidding me!” After a moment she put her hands on her hips. “What is your problem, Noah? You scared me!” She frowned deeply at him. When she had seen his hand flying through the air, she had, for a moment, believed he meant to strike her. She had no reason for this fear; it was a completely irrational thought.
His reply was bewildered. “I don’t want you to smoke anymore.” He looked her up and down, as if he saw how silly he was acting.
“What are you talking about? Why not?”
He seemed to deflate a little under her scrutiny. “I… I don’t want you to.”
Both her eyebrows shot up. “Oh, and I’m supposed to do everything you want, right? Why don’t I chop off my hair and let you sleep with other women? Hey, I should even take you back after you leave me. You want that, don’t you? Tell me if that’s what you want.”
He flinched when she spoke. “It’s not like that. I just get a really bad feeling about them. I wish you wouldn’t.” He looked balefully at the cigarette resting in her fingers. For a moment, Jupiter fantasized that he was jealous of it.
With a little shake of her head, she stepped away from him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can’t control me. I won’t let you.”
“But… I really feel it’s best if you don’t.”
Appalled, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Best? Since when have you known what’s best? Best for yourself? Best for me? Noah, you wouldn’t know what’s best if it bit you in the behind.” She took another hit from the cigarette and blew the smoke in his direction. “I don’t need you anymore.”
With that, she turned and strutted back to the house, leaving Noah standing in the sun-drenched grass. She couldn’t believe him! Asking her to stop smoking was like asking her to take down the American flag Mama always hung beside the front door of the house. He just couldn’t do it. And who was he to claim he knew what was best for her? He left her alone for years, and then expected her to accept him as soon as he returned.
Boiling inside, she locked the front door and trudged up the stairs. She turned away from her bedroom and went straight down the hall to the attic stairs. When she reached the top she found a long, white candle to light. She ruffled through the boxes, searching for the one in particular that held what she searched for. A small one in the corner sat lifeless, as it had for quite a few months. She hadn’t opened it since she had stopped needing Noah. What she found inside, under a small storm of sprinkling dust, was a pair of small journals. She pulled out the one with the red ribbon tucked into the pages. The candle flame flickered around her as she sat back, pulled up the attic door, and flipped through the journal to find the first empty page. Her scribbled handwriting was elegant and sloppy, and her words stank of emotion.
She had decided that she could no longer keep it in. She hadn’t wanted to write about Noah’s return in a negative way because she was sure things would fix themselves immediately. Now she saw that in order to correct the mistakes made by both of them, she had to take it step by step.
The first was to write about it in the little journals she saved just for him.
chapter twenty: its all in your mind
[i]Noah came back.
I can’t believe the b*****d. I just… I have no idea what to say to him! I’m trying to understand why he believes that I could " or would " take him back the moment he returned. He has to earn me. I deserve to be earned by him. He can’t have me yet.
It’s enraging. I don’t know what to do with him. Do I tell him to piss off? Do I try to coax him into being better? I don’t even know why he came back. What happened, did Madeline dump him overseas? And what’s with all the tattoos? I don’t understand what he was thinking when he did that to his body. They’re beautiful, sure… and I want to know the stories they all have… but it was still stupid of him.
I’m beginning to wonder if I should have had an affair. Wait, no… not an affair. Noah and I were [/i]not[i] together. We aren’t anymore. He’s not my lover, he was never my husband, and… and… that’s that. If I had accepted any of the offers for relationships, I would have something on him. The baker gave me many bouquets of flowers. Why didn’t I do anything? I could have been pleasing myself all this time. But no, I had to stay true to Noah. I had to remain his and only his. I [/i]had[i] to. That’s… just how it works.
I’m a little disappointed he didn’t do the same.
Who am I kidding? It really upsets me. I feel like I’m less to him now. Like… he can have other women. He doesn’t need me. That’s what his actions say. He’s over me, he doesn’t want me anymore, I shouldn’t hold him to anything. But that so wrong!
He’s despicable. I missed him so much.[/i]
Jupiter sighed and closed the journal between her hands. Her heart was racing quietly in the cave of her chest. This was going to be interesting.
After a moment of nothing, she peered back into the pages. Here was her first entry, when she had first realized he was worthy of documenting. Every moment with him she had wanted to preserve and protect. She was attached to the seconds of her life where he held her hand and whispered her name. Even in the scandal of leaving her husband, he had stayed by her side. He had been loyal and perfect.
What had happened?
She ran her fingerprints gingerly over the pages. They smelled of old tears and smeared pencil markings. Her handwriting was neat and beautiful when she was calm. When she became upset as she had just now, her writing blurred together and slanted heavily. There were moments of deep emotion in this journal. Many memories of Lora Joan and Noah and her husband were in there, all the people who had been with her in those four years of loneliness. She would never forget., especially those first few weeks, when she had fallen in love for the first time in her life.
[i]Dear reader. I have fallen in love, and it isn’t with my husband.
Things to remember: he has golden eyes. His hair is black and very curly. His hands are soft. There is a scar on his left palm in the shape of a crescent moon. He doesn’t like chocolate. How strange. He doesn’t wear a hat outside like my husband does. I want to lick his cheek. He doesn’t have much facial hair… I don’t know if he shaves it or if he just doesn’t have it. His eyebrows are long. They’re fun to draw on. He is pretty, and anyone who knows him will agree.
This is all I have learned so far.
He makes me feel whole. My heart is just… so happy with him. My husband could never make me feel this good. I was beginning to feel like an empty old hag with him. Every morning I would wake up wondering what I was missing and how I could find it.
When I met the man I’m in love with, everything fit together. The puzzle pieces in my head make perfect sense now. He is right.
He seems perfect. How? Well… he listens when I speak. He doesn’t dismiss me as a “silly woman.” It feels wonderful, being paid attention to. It’s important to feel like the person I’m with cares. And… he touches me sometimes. They’re just little touches… one on the shoulder when I say a sweet thing, a kiss on the cheek when he brings me home. I feel like a precious doll, wrapped up in his arms.
I saw him for the first time and already I knew that I wanted to know him. I didn’t care what kind of a person he was, if he was crazy or depressed. I didn’t know anything, but I wanted to know all. I would have left everything behind if he would just tell me his name. And his guitar, it’s so beautiful! He’s played a couple songs that he wrote, and I can’t wait to hear more. I love a man who plays an instrument. And he is so sweet to Lora Joan. I can’t believe it; he treats her like a real princess. She talks about him all the time, like he’s some superhero come to take her away.
Lora Joan hasn’t been very sick since I met him. She comes outside almost every day. She’s been drawing a lot more, as well. It’s so good to see her happy and healthy. I wish it could last forever.
In the future, I want to remember how a single moment can change a life forever. [/i]
chapter twenty-one: well now im back at home and
She sat with her head bowed over the treasure of her past, oblivious to the world around her but for this piece of her life. She flipped quietly through the pages, her fingers gently handling the paper, and she beamed. In the early days, she had been so in love with Noah. Over time, however… the person she had fallen for was gone, changed. He was something else now, someone alien. She didn’t understand him anymore.
Sighing to herself, Jupiter looked.
Below her, Noah was searching for redemption. He had found the hidden key (which oddly hadn’t moved from its place beneath a loose board on the porch) and come in a little while after she had stormed off, sensitive to her anger but eager to fix things. He fidgeted through the kitchen, toying with cups that had been there for as long as he remembered. One or two of them had thin cracks in their porcelain. Every few minutes he lifted his head, thinking that one sound or another was Jupiter coming to talk to him. He didn’t think she would forget about him.
Finally he could bear it no longer. He felt useless, sitting down here when she was somewhere in the house. He had to find her.
The search began in the living room and reached all the way to Lora Joan’s empty room, and Jupiter was nowhere to be found. He turned and started to walk back toward the room that he used to share with her. Gazing on the empty bed, he heard a noise behind him. He turned and laid his eyes on the attic ladder, pulled down and resting at the end of the hall. How he couldn’t have seen it, he had no idea. Quickly, he started to walk toward it, but slowed just before he stepped onto the first rung. He had to be patient. Maybe she didn’t want to be interrupted in whatever she was doing up there. Careful and slow, he climbed to the top and peered into the darkness.
He saw her kneeling beside a small candle, her head bent over something in her lap. He bit his lip and watched the candlelight flicker on her skin. What was she doing? Was she looking at picture? He lifted his head slightly in an attempt to see, but only succeeded in making the stairs creak. Instantly, he ducked, clinging to the ladder in the hopes that she wouldn’t choose to investigate the strange noise. After a minute of nothing, he peeked again. She seemed undisturbed.
Noah wondered why she had been so upset. He had witnessed a horrible nightmare involving cigarettes " it only made sense that they were bad! He didn’t understand how she couldn’t respect his wants. At least she could [i]not[/i] smoke in his presence.
He sighed a bit and looked to her face. Her hand moved in her lap; she had turned the page in a sort of book. Why was she reading? Curiosity growing, he stepped a little higher on the ladder. It stayed mercifully silent under his weight. Breathing shortly, he slowly climbed all the way into the attic. She continued to read, peaceful in her candlelight, unaware of anything.
Something creaked, this time much louder than the ladder. Jupiter’s head lifted and turned to him. Their eyes met, and he knew he had made a mistake.
“What the hell are you doing!” she barked, jumping to her feet and staring down at him. The book " he could see now that it was a journal " was clutched to her chest by a protective arm. “This is private. How did you get in?” She gasped. “Did you break a window? Oh Noah, tell me you didn’t.”
He frowned and crossed both arms over his chest, not moving. “You never got rid of the hidden spare,” he said, looking up at her and then away. “Um… what were you doing?”
She scoffed. “As if I would tell you. Go away.”
“Jupiter, please.” He lifted his eyes pleadingly to hers. She was like a sea goddess, and he the lowly sun. She could put him out in a second.
Her oceanic eyes narrowed at him. “Fine. You can stay. But go sit over there.” She waved her hand haphazardly in the direction of the tiny attic window, as if it were a deserted corner in her mansion of memories and that was where he belonged.
Happy with this, he moved. He sat silently in the dust, watching her as she resumed her position, only facing him. She wanted to be able to see him if he was in the room. He felt a stab of hurt in his heart: she didn’t trust him anymore.
Jupiter continued reading through her journals. She scanned each and every page, tasting the emotions she had felt for the first time in years. It was sweet and raw, unlike her current bitter state. She couldn’t wait to be happy again.
Suddenly, she didn’t recognize the handwriting. She blinked a few times in confusion, turning back a page and reading.
[i]Noah has been good to us.[/i]
That was the last entry she recognized. She smoothed out the next page, marveling at the large, messy letters.
Noah came to my house! He loves me and I love him. He gived me a pretty leaf today from the garden outside because I can’t go out. I miss the outside. Is it still pretty? I wanna see again.
PS, thanks for teaching me even because I am sick. I love you, sissy.[/i]
Jupiter wiped at the tears gathering in her eyes. She glanced up at Noah to see him watching her. She put on a flustered air and started fussing with the pages, tossing them about like they might be on fire but she wasn’t quite sure yet if they were. He chuckled a little and began crawling closer to her.
“Jupiter?” he asked softly, now only a few feet between them.
She sniffled and opened the book to Lora Joan’s previously-unseen journal entry. She must have wanted to be like her big sister. Jupiter sobbed quietly and squeezed the journal in her hands. Noah crept nearer. She shoved the book in his direction, not looking at him, and waited until he took it gently in his hands. He respectfully stayed on the designated page, leaning closer to read in the dull light. After a moment, he looked up at her.
“Oh, Jupiter.” He sighed and set the book aside, moving beside her and touching her arm. “She only wants you to be happy.”
Jupiter looked at him with watery eyes. “I know that. You think I don’t know my sister?” She dropped her head, letting her vision become crystallized. She whispered softly, “She was my baby.”
Noah pulled her into his arms and held her close. It was okay, he wanted her to know. He was here now, and he would fix everything. “Shh, now,” he soothed, stroking her hair. “Here. I have a story for you.” He pulled Jupiter up by her chin, rubbing his thumb over her remaining tears. “Smile for me, baby.” Her lips pulled into a pitiful little smirk. He frowned at her and brushed a strand of her hair out of her face. “Do you want to hear my story?”
The thick film of water in her eyes all but disappeared when she blinked her big, black eyelashes. “Who’s it about?”
He smiled and tapped the journal. “Your baby, of course.”
chapter twenty-two: im looking forward to this life i live
[i]A soft knock on wood woke him from his afternoon dream. Blinking his golden eyes wide open, Noah became aware that there was a person on his porch. He yawned quietly as he got to his feet, the heel of his hand rubbing along his scratchy jaw. He hadn’t shaved in a little while. A sleep-weary hand took hold of the doorknob and pulled, revealing a glimmering fountain of light from the angel that stood there. A pair of bright, aquamarine eyes stared at him, framed with a halo of dark hair.
“Hello, Jupiter,” he said quietly, letting his eyes adjust to the outside light. He quickly saw that there was a small girl leaning her head in the groove of her waist. She had sleepy blue eyes. A smile grew on his face as he moved down onto one knee. “Hey, Lora Joan,” he said in a hushed voice, smiling happily and reaching out to stroke her cheek. A little smile picked at her lips, letting free a tiny giggle as she pressed her face into Jupiter’s hip.
“I would never come to you unless I absolutely had to. I just get so worried about Lora Joan that I can’t concentrate on doing anything. Could you please watch her for the afternoon? Bring her home at eight, if you could. Thanks a lot; you are helping me so much.”
Noah presented his hand to the little girl. “Would you like to come inside?” He chuckled at the sight of her bouncy locks of hair moving as she nodded and skipped merrily past him. He watched her flit around the living room like a curious butterfly before he stood and smiled at the woman standing before him. “I’d be more than happy to look after her. Eight, you said?”
Jupiter nodded, a smile on her ruby lips. “This means the world to me.” She lowered her eyes, perhaps in an attempt to hide her growing blush.
Meanwhile, Lora Joan was playing as a kitten in a whole new world. There was the sofa-mountain, black and glorious beside the table-beast’s castle. Oh no! Watch out for the newspaper dragon! She squealed excitedly and jumped on the cushions, burrowing through the pillows to find her treasure. It was here somewhere, she just [/i]knew[i] it! She peered over the arm of the chair and stepped off, her long blue skirt shivering around her tiny legs. Her shoes had already been removed. The adventure girl got down on her hands and knees, willing to travel through the darkest rivers and deepest oceans to find the right kind of pearl.
Aha! She leapt to her feet, staring wide-eyed at the green monster sitting on the little table. It was bathed in the soft glow of the lamp that sat silently above it, ever shining and every shiny. She seized the knob in her hand and started turning it furiously, listening with a keen ear to the voices of the radio. When she had found something she could tolerate, she began to dance.
Noah interrupted her.
“Hey, squirt. You want something to eat?”
She grinned and hopped up. “Yeah!”
“All right,” he burst, stomping into the kitchen to retrieve her feast. Lora Joan wandered around the small coffee table, investigating the shelves beneath it for papers to tear. Here was a nice magazine… she started bending the corners of every page like a dog’s ear. By the time Noah returned, she had created a miniature sculpture of ads and pictures. He chuckled and admired her masterpiece, setting a large plate before her. “It’s your dinnertime, right?”
Lora Joan nodded and took hold of the fork. “Whoa! Cake!?” She immediately dove into it, devouring the pink and white pastry like she had never had sweets before in her life. Her lips littered with colored crumbs, she giggled. “Thish ish the hest eher!”
He laughed and tucked a piece of her hair behind her little pink ear. Her nose was the same rosy color. “Are you sick again, honey?” he asked curiously, sitting back to watch her eat.
She gained the aura of someone who didn’t want to tell their spouse they had been fired. “Well… I’ve had this cough, you see. And my throat hurts when I swallow.” She demonstrated by gulping down a large bite of cake and lightly touching her collar. She winced a tiny bit and then looked around with a purpose in her eye. “Do you have any water?”
“Oh, right.” He got to his feet and went back into the kitchen. As he filled a cup with water, his eyes fixed on the counter. She was sick. He had her for at least four hours. He should do something for her.
Grinning in satisfaction, he grabbed his keys and brought the water to his visitor. He sat down beside her and waited until she was done to speak again.
“I have you until eight o’ clock.”
“That’s a long time.”
Her eyes turned to him. She knew this.
A smile began to live in his mouth. “Do you want to go on an adventure?”
Her eyes glittered like eager stars. They said, without so much as the sound of her sweet angelic voice, “Why yes, yes I do.”[/i]
chapter twenty-three: you know its gonna haunt me
[i]A sliver of sunlight peeked in under the hat to warm her eyelids. Her giggles vibrated with the rough road they drove on. She didn’t know where this adventure was, but it was going to be great. Any time she donated to Noah’s watch always turned out to be more fun than her wildest dreams and drawings. She had learned early on in her life around him that he was much more interesting than her sister’s husband. Heck, he gave her cake for dinner! If that wasn’t good, she had no idea what was. Not to mention he looked like a [/i]king![i] Jupiter had been talking about a prince, but he was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, much more than a prince. In her dreams, Noah married Jupiter and they became king and queen, and Lora Joan would be a real princess.
When they rolled to a stop, she tried to push up the huge brim of the hat on her head. It was bigger than her whole body! Noah was crazy giving this to her. She pushed it off and turned her head to find that he was at her door, preparing to open it and free her from her restricting seatbelt.
“Where are we?” she asked as she hopped out of his truck. She saw the yellow and green grass beneath her shoes and her jaw dropped. “It’s half dead!”
Noah chuckled and took her tiny hand in his. His knuckles were awkward in his youth. She liked the way they felt on her fingers. It was like she was touching a tree without its clothes on. She sighed happily and looked up in wonder as they neared a large and very colorful tent. People were coming in from the rest of the world, it seemed, just so they could come to this show. The strips of the tent were bright red and yellow, alternating in a dizzy pattern to excite its visitors.
They approached the big, open flaps. She giggled and hugged Noah’s hand. Was that a [/i]pony!?[i] She squealed excitedly and darted through the people to see the pretty animal. When she was standing before it, she stopped. She didn’t want to look like a snake to the poor thing. She reached a hand up and let it sniff her, making a giggle erupt from her dry lips.
The young man standing beside the tiny horse tightened his grip on its reins. Lora Joan wished he would set it free. Then she could ride it to a land very far away where she could live forever and be a princess.
Noah took her hand and led her inside where all the other people went. For a few minutes, he held her on his hip as he searched for a seat or two. He might have to sit her on his lap so she could see.
Once the show began, the chatter around them grew hushed. In the center of this enormous audience was a ring around what looked to be a stage. There, a ballerina tigress danced and twirled, her red stripes blending into her hair and making her fierce. Lora Joan’s eyes followed her every movement in wonder, and soon she was in a daze. The ballerina’s droopy pink tutu looked like a wilting tulip.
Her eyelids fell, and her head landed on Noah’s shoulder.
When she opened her beautiful blue eyes again, she was met with billions of stares. Her hands tightened instinctively on Noah’s shirt when she realized she was in the center ring. She looked around, frightened, and called for her sister. A booming laughter burst from the man standing beside them. He looked like someone from her nightmares. Cowering into Noah’s embrace, she stared as the man came closer and glared at her face. Was she ugly to him? She felt a comforting hand in her hair, but she was still afraid.
“Little girl,” the man whispered. “Are you… sick?”
She glanced around the crowded tent and gave a weak nod.
“OH NO!” he wailed, and all the clowns that had been hiding in the shadows burst forth and started screaming all at once, “Germs! Germs!” over and over as they scrambled from the ring.
Lora Joan cried out and buried her face into Noah’s neck. Big, fat tears collected in her eyes and spilled down her tiny, blushing cheeks. She heard her king saying something to the other man in her defense, and then she was being whisked away from this awful place.
Noah opened the back of his truck and made a comfortable lap for her to curl up in. He stroked her hair and asked what was wrong.
The girl’s pouting lip protruded and showed its hidden pink flesh. “I hate being sick.”
“Oh honey. Why do you hate it?” He held her close and rubbed his thumb along the curve of her small arm.
“I’m scared of dying. I don’t want to leave.” Her angel-like voice was heavy with sadness.
Sighing, he touched her chin. She looked up at him with large eyes. “Lora Joan, dying is part of life. If you don’t die someday, then you were never alive.”
A frown pulled her lips down. “Jupiter told me that you said you would stay and make me better.” Her fingers were playing with each other like sleepy puppies. “Will you?”
“I can’t stay forever.” She lifted her gaze to him again, and he smiled. “I’m going to die someday, too.” His fingers brushed aside a strand of her curly hair. “I promise you’ll understand.”
She shook her head in defiance. “I don’t want to. I hate dying. It’s not fair.”
“I’m going to die, and so is Jupiter.”
A gasp escaped her. “Nuh uh! You’re lying!”
He shook his head solemnly. “But I promise that she’ll always love you.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder, thinking silently to herself. “Are you afraid she’ll die?”
Noah turned his eyes to her and saw that she her chin was tucked, her eyes hidden by a wave of her hair. She was fidgeting over her stomach, like a squirrel trying to warm its paws in the winter. He smiled and pulled her hair behind her ear. “I have no reason to be afraid.”
“Because,” he said, pulling her closer to his chest, “the people you love are always in your heart. Even if you can’t make memories with them anymore, they are with you in spirit.”
Her tiny brow furrowed and she looked at him. “What’s a spirit?”
“Spirits are what make us human.” He drew a flower on her knee. “It’s your feelings that stay behind when you’re gone. The people who miss you are made happy, remembering you.”
She took this in, biting at her bottom lip as she looked out to the darkness that was the woods. The sun must have fallen asleep while they were inside that stupid tent. She yawned a little and closed her eyes. A minute later, Noah nudged her. She lifted her head again and looked, and her breath was gone.
Little glowing lights were floating around them. The fireflies drifted lazily through the air, diving at the grass and picking at the leaves.
“I don’t want to die,” she said quietly.
Noah wrapped both his arms around her and kissed her temple. “It’s okay to love life. Life is great, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
She nodded knowingly and leaned forward, her hand outstretched to touch a burning bug that came close. “Jupiter doesn’t want me to die, either.”
The image of this little girl’s sister, teary-eyed and desperate, flashed into his mind. He took Lora Joan’s hand and held it tightly to her heart, looking deep into her eyes. “I don’t want you to die.”
Her chin wrinkled and droplets glazed her eyes, growing on her eyelashes.
He smiled and touched her cheek. “Nobody wants you to die, Lora Joan.”[/i]
chapter twenty-four: so hesitation to this life i give
All he wanted was for Jupiter to understand.
“Lora Joan knew what it meant to die,” he said softly in her ear. “She also knew what it meant to live.” A hopeful smile lifted his expression. “She’s happy with what she got to do. I promise you.”
Her eyes lifted to his, and she understood. Maybe now it was time to forgive. Could she do that, after all the pain he had caused her? After all the promises he hadn’t kept? But… what about all the ones he had? She was afraid to let herself be vulnerable to him again, after the last time he had cut her so deep. Her lips fell apart, as if unable to hold back the words behind them any longer. “I was lost without you,” she whispered. Her mouth trembled as her eyes filled to the brim with tears. “I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to say to people.” Giving in to her need, she buried her face in his chest and sobbed. It was good to feel his warm arms holding her after all the loneliness she had felt.
His cheek rested on her head as he told her a secret. “I was lost without you, too.” When she looked up at him, he kissed her cheek softly. Feeling her melt against him was like a material answer to all of the prayers he had come to have. He hadn’t realized in time " he left before the fact had graced his mind " but Jupiter was the world he had been searching for. He had left everything behind because he hadn’t known where [i]he[/i] stood in the world. His belief was, plain and simple, that if he searched far enough he would something to replace the absence he had felt in his heart. In truth, he had had it in the palm of his hand, right before him. He had held it, and then dropped it because he hadn’t seen it there.
Jupiter was his world, and he should have never left her.
[i] “I want you to know something, Jupiter Anne,” Miss Mays’ old voice whispered huskily. Jupiter was entranced by the familiar lines " like those of her Mama " she saw etched into the woman’s sagging skin.
They had met the day before at their joint mailbox, and the elderly woman had instantly attached to her. “Oh, I just moved here!” she had informed her with a cheery smile, and then insisted she come try her Secret Tea. The name had mystified Jupiter’s mind, and now here she sat, sipping a cup of something sweet and delicious that left a very warm feeling running down her throat. It felt like she was swallowing cooled lava.
Miss Mays was telling a story. She went about it magically, her slightly dirty glasses perched precariously on the end of her spotted nose. Her golden hair was held back in a thick braid that draped across her hunched shoulder. Her long fingers trembled gently as she scooped sugar into her small china glass. Its intricate designs were painted on in pale magenta. “I had just left my husband,” she said, stirring her tiny spoon through the dark liquid. A soft clinking sound was a timer as she spoke. “My [/i]third[i] husband,” she pointed out with a chuckle.
Jupiter smiled a little and thought of her first, as well as the one she had never married. Her eyes moved to her empty ring finger as Miss Mays continued.
“I had just left him, and now I was travelling the world. I wanted to find myself. I didn’t know where I was going, all I knew was I wanted to [/i]get[i] there.” Her hands flowed through the air, painting a vivid picture for Jupiter with her words. “The ocean was so huge. I couldn’t see the end of it! In the mornings, I went out on the deck of the ship just so I could watch the sun rise. It was so beautiful. Every gemstone imaginable was scattered on the surface of the water.”
She would see it in her mind, sparkling brilliantly in a myriad of bright colors. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the feeling of sea mist giving her face tiny fairy kisses.
“At night, I swear, I could see all the stars in the sky. Every one was like a big, fat diamond winking at me.” Miss Mays’ old eyes twinkled with the fond memory. “My young lover was braiding my hair.” Her hands floated over the blonde braid on her shoulder. “He was good to me…”
Jupiter said, in the tiniest voice possible: “Noah made me feel like a princess.” She was leaning over her cup of tea, staring into the rising steam with moisture clouding her eyes.
“My darling,” the hostess said in a gentle sigh, a genuine smile on her wrinkled mouth. She moved her hand on top of Jupiter’s and squeezed a little. Her skin felt glossy. “The ones you love are greater in your mind than the sun. Have you ever noticed that you feel cloudy without him?”
With widened eyes, she nodded. She most certainly had. She had been a hurricane without his loving sunshine.
“I’ve been in love many times, dear. Every time I meet a new man, it’s a perfect fairytale all over again. I can see the happy ending, I can hold it in my hand… but he doesn’t see it with the same eyes. The men I’ve had didn’t seem to understand how wonderful it could be.” She sighed in defeat. “But that’s how it goes.” A smile warmed her lips as she turned her head to Jupiter. Her hand pressed down again. “You can fall in love with anyone, you know.”
“I don’t know about that…” The young woman cast her eyes downward and screwed her lips in an awkward frown. Miss Mays was so warm that it was hard to remain cold inside. Which made her wonder… why was she reluctant to let the icicles in her melt?
“Believe me, honey. It’ll happen.” The old queen yawned and reached her arms out. Jupiter could almost hear the creaking in her bones. “Someday you’ll fall in love with someone that deserves you.” [/i]
“I want to show you something!” she exclaimed, dragging him by his hand. Noah tried hard to keep up with her; where had she gotten those legs!?
It was a day after they had reconnected. Jupiter had let him sleep on the couch. What a huge step that was in his mind. He was so close, now! He could almost feel her body on his for the first time in four years. He felt that he had earned her love, after all the hell he had gone through to get her back. But it was worth it. Oh, it was so worth it.
“Hurry up. You’re so slow!” They reached the ladder leading to the attic. Neither of them had bothered to replace it the night before; they had been too wrapped up in not being enemies.
Noah laughed and nudged her out of the way so he could get up before her. Her hand clamped down on the back of his ankle, pulling him down again. They were laughing together now, until they both somehow made it past the pull of gravity. They drifted through the sterile dust of the attic until they reached a small box that Jupiter pulled out of a shadow. It was sacred; she handled it like a treasure chest. As she opened it, the excitement in her eyes grew, until she was almost crying with happiness. “Here, here!” she said, shoving a leather-bound journal into his hands. In response to his curious look, she opened it and flipped to the first page for him.
His eyes fell to the scripture resting like a calm beast in his palms. It was written on, in her elegant handwriting.
[i]Today, my mother came to visit. She was everything I’ve ever imagined.
Her hair is golden and long. It curls in all these weird places, but it works perfectly. She’s so very thin. I’m taller than her by an inch. I have her eyes.
She is very beautiful. She is very calm. She wanted to know where my sister was.
I had to lie, at first. [/i]
chapter twenty-five: you think you might cross over
[i]It was a dull, grey day. The sky looked like a dirty ocean.
Jupiter’s house stood cast in a shadow of rain and absent sunshine. The sweet sound of a child’s laughter had long evaporated from the walls of every room. Jupiter lay in bed, as she did most days. The blankets were a silent tomb across her body, weighing down on her soul and trapping her in this lonely feeling.
This was the day that there was a knock on her door.
Her socks caught on the wooden floors as she dragged herself downstairs. She felt like a cat left out in the rain, even though she was drier than who would be at her door. The makeup she wore had begun to stain her face, so now she just didn’t wear any at all. Her eyelashes always stuck together with the sticky residue of half-dried tears. Her hair laid mangled, left stranded on her skinny shoulders. The deep blue-green of her aquamarine eyes looked leaden.
Her chipped fingernails scratched against the doorknob before she managed to turn it. She only let the wood come near her a few inches, enough so that she could peer out into the drizzling world.
Before her stood a doll-like woman. Her golden hair was fluffed and curled to revolve around her face like caramel cotton candy. Her eyes were piercing green, her lips a fierce shade of pink. Above her head was a pink parasol sewn with white lace. Jupiter looked over her strangely middle-aged features and quite womanly attire.
“Can I help you?” she whispered, barely audible above the soft ticking of the rain. She was sheltered behind the door like a frightened mouse.
The woman’s grin revealed sparkling white teeth. “Darling? Is that you, Jupiter Anne?”
Jupiter frowned and closed the door a little. “What do you want?”
“Why, honey, I’ve come to see you! What, you mean to tell me you don’t recognize your own mother?”
Her name was Marla Jay. She was a glamorous actress who was taking a break from the “hard life.” Jupiter had no idea what it was like, let Marla tell her. “I’ve never had more fun doing anything else. What about you? What are you doing for fun in this weird town? Didn’t you have a sister?” She looked around the house, touching the handle of her parasol between gloved digits. “Why is it so cold in here?”
Jupiter stirred her tea with marionette fingers, her wrist jerking with an invisible string. “Lora Joan is gone.”
Marla pouted her apple lips and furrowed her brow. “Where to, a vacation destination?” Her eyes twinkled with delight.
Her daughter scowled and continued to circle her spoon. “Something like that.”
“Oh, well I hope she’s having fun. Who is her father figure? Were you raising her yourself?”
“No,” she sighed, finally taking a drink of her refreshment. It soothed the discomfort that ruffled her feathers. “Mama and I raised her until five years ago.”
“What happened then?”
Jupiter shrugged and looked up to meet her eyes. “Mama died.”
Marla only raised her eyebrows. “Really. Well, I feel sorry for her. She was always giving to others, and never to herself.” She raised her small glass and sipped at the edge.
‘Are you insane?’ Jupiter wanted to scream in her face. Mama had been the angel on her Christmas tree, the sparkle in her eyes, the inspiration to be the best person she could be. This woman at her table now was Mama’s very own daughter, and she didn’t even care that she was dead! Disgust swelled in her throat and she had to leave the table. She couldn’t deal with this alien woman in her home. Her hands grabbed whatever was on the counter and shoved them in the sink full of soapy water. The bubbles popped and sizzled on her fingers as she scrubbed, trying to work out the anger boiling inside her.
“Do you still dance?”
Her eyes closed, and she sighed. “No.”
“Oh, why not?” Marla came to her side and peeled the gloves from her hands like an exoskeleton. “I started to paint, did you know that?” She ignored Jupiter’s tiny head-shake and continued. “Yes. I was walking through the store and there was some spilled paint on the floor. Well, I stepped in it and slipped. It was bright red, and I was wearing a blue dress, but it turned out quite interesting. I started painting the walls in my house in the same random fashion… throwing the colors on them and such.” She suddenly dipped her hands into the water beside Jupiter’s and started washing the dishes with her.
“Well, that’s nice,” Jupiter muttered under her breath, subtly stepping away from her mother. She wasn’t familiar or comfortable next to her. “Lora Joan did some drawings in her time.”
Marla’s eyes lit up. “She did? Can I see them?” Her hand slipped out of the water and grabbed a towel to dry. “Where’s her room? I want to see her things.”
Slightly confused, Jupiter dried her hands as well. “It’s upstairs. Follow me.”
“Oh… it’s pretty in here.” Her large, green eyes surveyed the room like a curious tree frog. Jupiter followed her closely as she moved, frightened she might touch something and knock it into oblivion. She hadn’t come to this room in a long time, and for a good reason. The place had become foreign without Lora Joan.
“Don’t touch that,” she gasped, reaching out to gently slap Marla’s hand away from the sea glass that rested on the perfectly fluffed pillow.
The woman ignored her and plucked it between her fingers. “Where did this come from?” she asked, peering through the thick green shard.
Jupiter took her wrist and closed her hand over the precious glass piece. “My Noah gave it to her when she was sick.”
“Your Noah?” Marla’s grin widened again to reveal her spotless teeth. “Is he your husband?”
With a shake of her head, she said, “No. I never married him.”
“Good. Marriage is bad news.” Her mother sat on the edge of Lora Joan’s empty bed and crossed her long legs. Jupiter saw her shiny black boots as they emerged from her skirts. The toes were pointed.
“No… he didn’t want to marry me.” A faint smile touched her lips. “He didn’t want me to hurt him if I left.”
Marla frowned deeply. “Well, you’re still here. Where is he?”
Jupiter laughed out loud. “He left me!”
“What an insensitive a*s!”
Shocked, she looked back to her mother. “What do you mean?”
Her green eyes rolled. “He’s a hypocrite. You don’t need someone like that breaking your flow. You can do just fine without a [/i]man[i] on your arm, dragging you down.” She sighed softly and ran her hand in a large circle on the bedspread, her eyes following the wrinkles as they appeared between her fingers. “Did you ever have any children, Jupiter?”
“What? Why not?” She patted her hand on the bed beside her and lifted her chin to look at her daughter, saying with her eyes, ‘Come sit.’
“I’m infertile. The doctors told me so.” Her eyes were downcast, staring at her intertwined hands.
Marla’s hand moved over hers, protecting them from her sad stare. Jupiter lifted her eyes. “Honey, I’m sorry.”
She could feel her bottom lip moving to form a pout. She bit it back into its place. “Do you like being a mother?” she whispered.
The woman’s hand squeezed hers. “I wasn’t a mother to you. I wish I had been… but I just wasn’t cut out to raise another human.” A smile warmed her flawless appearance. “And look at you. You’ve raised yourself to be a wonderful young woman. I think you have the whole world at your feet.”
“I don’t know…” Jupiter sighed, dropping her face.
Her mother’s hand cupped her chin and brought her eyes upward. “Baby, if you’re anything like me, you can get past everything life has to toss in your way.”
Her smile let free a tiny sigh. “Marla… Mom…” She corrected herself with only a trace of hesitation. “Lora Joan died a year ago.” [/i]
chapter twenty-six: you’re caught between the devil
[i]It was impossible to tell if this was a dream or a nightmare. Madeline lay between his legs, her crazy eyes alight on his face and her sharp teeth brandished. Her fingers were as long as spider legs, picking at the button of his jeans. Noah scurried away from her in horror, but she was attached. She kept trying to get inside the protective layer of his clothes, and that was the [/i]last[i] place he wanted her to be. He pushed her away and tried to wiggle free, unwanting of her strange affection.
With an abrupt yelp, he woke up. A woman was in the bunk beside him, sound asleep with the moonlight on her skin. For a moment he thought that her hair was dark. [/i]Jupiter,[i] he thought in tired elation. She stirred in her sleep, turning to show him a mane of fiery red hair. His heart sank.
He fell back on his pillow with a dejected sigh. His golden eyes stared up through the darkness at the open window on the opposite wall. Through its dusty glass, he could see a dark and starry sky. He wanted to go for a walk. He had wanted to look at the South American streets they were visiting since they had arrived earlier that day. Madeline had kept him busy unpacking and cleaning her pathetic plane until he felt his fingers would begin to bleed.
His travelling boots were on his feet, now. The laces were a bother, so he just tucked them inside. His hand snatched the jacket that rested at the foot of his bed and he spread his wings to don its embrace. The entrance, opened by his hand, released a burst of moist air. With a grin, he let himself out into the world.
This place looked like a deserted fairground. Through the heavy foliage that had grown over everything, he could see rusty metal with faded paint and peeling coats. They were like toys lost in a child’s backyard, where nobody cared to look into the soft shadows.
He walked through the tall grass with his eyes wide open. The air was tingling around him, lighting on his skin like the fireflies from home. [i]Home,[/i] his mind whispered to him. He wouldn’t listen to it. Stubbornly, he pushed through the overgrown weeds toward the large shadow that was the carnival’s only twisted oak tree.
His eyes lifted to the clear blue sky that was beginning to lighten. There were a few stars visible on the horizon, but they were being shy behind the branches of the tree before him. He could almost see their sparkle, but then they would wink out of sight and forbid his gaze each time he nearly caught one. A frown etched itself on his mouth as he looked beside the tree.
A little house, with fiery-painted walls and white windows, was protected beneath the oak’s shade. There was a black picket fence that circled the front porch, where the grass was deep green and alive.
Noah, being who he was, simply couldn’t leave a curious little home unexplored. Maybe he would find something that might help him in his quest. The trail had been running cold; he was becoming less and less interested in the situations he found himself living. Madeline was getting more frustrated with him every day, it seemed. Soon she would refuse to be his lover any longer… which he didn’t mind. It was the fact that she was his ticket around the world. She was the only pilot he had been able to find at the time, and he was a little afraid to look again. He had to please her while she would still let him, or he might be stranded out here in a foreign world.
He pushed the gate aside with his hand, eyes staying on the house. Who lived there? As he came closer, a soft breeze began to tug on his shirt and hair. The soft sound of wind-chimes filled his head and made him sigh with peacefulness. A twinkle caught his eye, and he saw the metal singers dangling at the corner of the porch, each separate chime hung beside another, so that they made a long row. They were all different colors, no two quite alike. Noah smiled and came closer, like a child caught by the loveliness of an angel. He stopped once he reached the wooden railing, his eyes peering up at the instruments in wonder. He could see now that some of them had colored pieces of glass hanging amidst them.
“You like my music?” a soft voice asked from the shadows. Noah jumped back, trying to search out the speaker. He saw a faint silhouette sitting on the porch. A quiet chuckle floated through the air and landed gently on Noah’s ears. There was a scratching sound, and then a small flame burst to life. He watched in wonder as a candle was lit, and he could see the man sitting there.
His skin was like melted dark chocolate, with a golden shine made by the warm firelight. He wore a deep purple vest, trimmed with gold, that didn’t quite hide the tattoos on his chest. An emerald pendant hung from his strong neck on a thin, golden chain.
“What, you have never seen a man-gypsy?” The man’s grin was wide and white; Noah could see a tiny gap between his front teeth. “Come onto my porch, man.”
Cautiously, he walked toward the steps. “What is a man-gypsy?” he asked, his eyes watching where he stepped. He didn’t want to stand on anybody’s voodoo doll and possibly crush them.
A jolly laugh burst through the air, startling the visitor. “A man just like any other, but one who is a little more prone to connect to another’s soul.” His eyes, as black and slick as a panther’s fur, locked on Noah’s. “Would you like to come inside for a drink?”
He was tugged back and forth in his mind. Should he go in and be with this stranger, who was looking at him like a lion? Or should he turn and run now, while he still could? He shrugged off the latter idea, because what harm could this young man be? With a budding smile on his lips, he nodded.
“Excellent, excellent. Come with me, now.” The gypsy stood and started toward the door. Noah watched him disappear into the darkness, and he paused at the doorstep. Would he dare enter? “Are you coming, friend?” The decision was made for him; he went inside.
After a moment, his golden eyes became accustomed to the dim light. He could now see the deep crimson rugs that shielded the stained-wood floors. As time progressed, patterns on the cloth popped up all over. It felt like he was walking on ancient runes in the soft carpet. The walls were decorated with hanging blankets of different styles. One was very pale blue mixed with white, like oil and water that couldn’t blend. There were Asian coy fish swirling through the currents of the tie-dye, like birds soaring through translucent clouds.
He turned to his right and found a large dining room. There was a small bar built against the far wall. He was mystified by all the interacting patterns and pictures, overlapping in his mind and nearly making him dizzy. The gypsy led him to one of the stools, then started busying himself with many intricate and colored bottles.
Noah breathed in deeply, having found his ground, and was surprised by the heady scent that burst in his body. “Mm! What incense are you using?” he burst out. The gypsy turned to him with a funny look. Noah bit his lip and looked down. Maybe some things were private.
The gypsy smiled widely. “It is Nag Champa. From India. You like?” He chuckled at the other man’s enthusiastic nodding. “You may have some when you leave.”
The black man’s laugh was hearty and gorgeous. “Of course, friend! You are here for me as much as I am here for you.”
Noah paused. “What does that mean?” The twinkle in the gypsy’s eye was unnerving.
“Oh, you didn’t know?” He grinned in a way that made Noah feel like a child being schooled. “Well, I’ll tell you, friend. Have a drink.”
A glass appeared in Noah’s hand. He peered down into it, afraid of its contents, but noted that it smelled incredibly delicious. It was like honey and cinnamon. With a reassuring nod from the gypsy, he lifted it to his lips and drank. It slid down his throat like a cool snake, leaving a strange tingling feeling that spread to his fingers and toes. “What is this?” he asked as he drank again.
“It is a secret.”
His gaze flashed forward. “Secret? Like what?” He eyed the glass suspiciously, as if it were laced with poison.
The gypsy’s smile was still large and comforting. He took Noah’s hand and patted it gently. “I am going to help you.” In response to his confusion, the gypsy lifted a hand and touched Noah’s brow. Oddly, he didn’t shift away. “You are almost ready. Do you feel well?”
Noah was gnawing his lip worriedly, looking all around the room in a panic. What was going to happen to him? “I… do…” He felt like his face was getting warmer, and the sensations in his limbs had yet to calm.
“Do you know what I am going to do?”
Noah shook his head like a sorry child.
“Oh, well,” the gypsy chuckled and sat back on his stool. “I am going to perform a type of hypnosis on you. It is commonly used for self-realization. You, my friend, seemed quite lost to me.”
“Now. I will ask you a question, and you will answer me what is in your heart. Do you understand?”
Noah nodded and watched the gypsy’s skin glitter. His tattoos were of suns and galaxies.
The gypsy’s dark eyes moved over the man before him, measuring where his thoughts would be. “What are you afraid of?”
After a moment: “Being alone.”
Instant progress. The gypsy took a sip of his whiskey. “What are you looking for?”
“Whatever there is for me to find.”
Noah looked in a daze. His dark curls were shimmering in the colored light of the gypsy’s many candles. “So you don’t know what you are searching for?”
He shook his head solemnly as his eyes began to close.
The gypsy snapped his fingers and brought the man back to attention. “You have lost yourself, astronaut,” he said grandly.
Noah bowed his head respectfully. “I have, star maker.”
“How long have you been away?”
A wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows. “Four years in a month.”
“When will you return home, alien?”
“Once I find out why it is there.”
“Where is there, exactly?”
“With Jupiter.” A gasp burst from his lips as he looked up at the gypsy. Realization shone in his eyes. “With Jupiter,” he repeated, and a smile grew on his face.[/i]
chapter twenty-seven: and the deep blue sea
[i]Her world was alive. The hardwood floors were actually snow-covered lawns, and those pieces of paper obviously represented a home for each of her hand-sewn dolls. Mama was an excellent Maker. Jupiter helped her come up with pretty clothing ideas, most of them flowing ball gowns. Their ribbons were like curling locks of fruit skin, dangling past their slim hips to their tiny dancing feet.
There were three hurried knocks on the front door. Jupiter lifted her young eyes to stare at the large piece of wood. It stretched high above her tiny frame; it was even taller than Mama, who appeared presently. Jupiter didn’t know why they had a monster door on their pretty house.
“Oh, what is this now?” Mama bent at the waist, reaching for something that was hidden by her skirt. Jupiter crept up to her hip and peered around her at the bundle on the porch.
“What’s that, Mama?” she asked, looking up at her as she held the thing in her arms. “Can I see?” She stood on the tips of her toes in an attempt to see over the blankets. What was inside?
The middle-aged woman began folding back the layers of her find. “I don’t know, pumpkin. Let’s find out.” Her dark blue eyes were wide and curious as she revealed a small, round face.
Jupiter hopped up, having seen the stunned expression on her Mama’s face, and grabbed the side of the blanket. That disturbed the creature inside, and it let out a terrified wail. The little girl scuttled away, surprised and staring. Mama started to hush the small thing, rocking it in her arms and walking into the kitchen. Jupiter followed, but not too closely. She didn’t know what it was yet.
“Jupiter Anne, go fetch me a rag from the cupboard.” She waved a hand in the correct direction, then began busying herself with some strange things.
Shrugging her shoulders, the dark-haired girl skipped through the house. The halls were long, and the doors tall, but she knew where she was going. She had lived here her whole life! She came upon the wooden structure that stood across from the washroom. Mama used to lock the doors, when she was little, but now they had disappeared. Jupiter was free to enter whenever she wanted. It was a wonderful privilege; she had found many beautiful soap shapes and seashells inside. There was even a small box of bottles that smelled good inside. Mama called them perfume, but Jupiter preferred foo foo juice. It was much more fantastic.
She reached inside and closed her hand around the soft, fuzzy folds of a bathing rag. When she pulled it out, it spilled into her open arms and flooded her with a sweet, clean scent. She buried her face in it and breathed deeply, turning to stumble blindly back to the kitchen.
With a great sigh, she offered it to Mama. The lady took it, and Jupiter saw a small, pudgy arm waving behind her. Her aquamarine eyes widened to the size of small saucers. “What is [i]that?”[/i] she whispered, cautiously moving closer. Mama picked her up and set her on the counter beside a little bed of blanket she had created. “It’s a little person!” she gasped.
The baby’s skin was the color of buttermilk. There was a tiny puff of golden hair atop her round head; her eyes were fat and alert. They swiveled toward Jupiter’s face, and never left. A little smile appeared on her pink, plump lips. Her curled fists opened and reached toward the girl like tiny starfish as she let out bubbles of laughter.
Jupiter giggled and moved a hand out for her to hold. She was surprised at the strong feeling of the baby’s firm grip. “Where did she come from?” she asked, looking up at Mama.
Her faintly wrinkled smile was kind and warm as she placed a hand on the infant’s belly. “Your mother, same place as you.”
“Ooh.” She pursed her lips and moved her arm from side to side. “What’s her name?”
“Well, I don’t know. How about you give her one?”
The girl’s grin was wide and instant. “Okay!” This was the opportunity of a lifetime! She would govern this little girl’s identity. Jupiter Anne was in charge of her little sister’s destiny! “How about… Josie?” What better to share than the first letter of her name? But… it didn’t ring right. “Hm… or maybe… Harriet?” That seemed fit for a small dog with lots of hair. It occurred to her, then. “We’ll call her Lora Joan.”
The baby’s gibberish was contagious, and soon Jupiter was giggling up a storm. Mama smiled and put her hand on her granddaughter’s back. “You can give her a bath if you want.” She pointed to the sink that was filled with a shallow pool of softly steaming water, then took the rag in her hand. She dipped it into the water and showed Jupiter how to gently clean Lora Joan’s fragile skin. Once she saw that the process was taken to heart, Mama backed away. “Okay. You stay with her while I go finish washing the clothes.”
Jupiter nodded and waited as Mama brought her a chair to stand on. She pushed it up all the way to the counter, then busied herself with the affectionate chore of bathing Lora Joan.
“You’re going to like Mama,” she said, dabbing at her skin with the moist cloth. “She makes very good desserts.” She pondered this for a moment as she rubbed the rolls of baby fat on her legs. “I guess you don’t have any teeth, do you?” Jupiter has lost some of her baby teeth already, enough to get a whole dollar from the tooth troll.
“Do you like spring or fall?” she asked, tickling Lora Joan’s tiny toes. The baby giggled and squirmed happily. Jupiter watched with a grin as her toes curled and wiggled. “I think you like spring. What do you like better: boys or girls?” She suddenly laughed and kissed the babe’s brow. “I bet you haven’t even seen any boys yet.” Lora Joan’s pink gums were displayed like a grin of fleshy teeth, making Jupiter giggle joyfully. “You are so cute, baby Lora Joan.”
Their blue eyes met, and they smiled. [/i]
chapter twenty-eight: you better look it over
[i]Noah had to talk to Lora Joan. He couldn’t find Jupiter anywhere. He had looked in all the places he had ever seen her; where else could she be?
He went to the girl’s room with a peace offering of cookies he had attempted to make. They looked more like they had been fashioned from some abstract, water-soaked form of sand and chocolate chips. He knocked softly with the backs of his knuckles, peering around the frame with wide eyes. He didn’t know if she was sick or not.
“Noah?” her voice jingled. He smiled and stepped in to meet her tiny bear hug that gripped his waist. “I missed you!” she yelped up at him, burying her face in the folds of his shirt.
He chuckled and stroked her fair hair. “Here, have a cookie.” He lowered the plate to her, and laughed when her eyes grew to three times their original size. He could see a glisten of eager child saliva on her pink lip. Her little fingers grabbed the cookie, holding it as tenderly as if it were a diamond, and gently took a bite.
“Wow, this is so good!” she piped, chomping again and again.
He smiled happily and offered her the rest, which she gladly accepted. After a minute of watching her devour the sweet treats, he fell back on the bed and sighed. “Do you know where Jupiter is?”
There was a soft sound as the plate was set on the small table he couldn’t see, and then Lora Joan flopped down next to him. She heaved a tiny girl sigh and turned her head to him. Their eyes met, and she shrugged. “It’s a secret,” she said sullenly.
“Oh, is it now?” He felt an excited flutter in his chest.
The girl nodded, her hand sliding to push a few troublesome strands from her eyes. “I can’t tell any of Jupiter’s secrets. It’s a rule.” She smiled innocently, her teeth displaying the small spaces between them. Her cheeks were alive with a healthy blush.
“Well, little Lora Joan,” he sighed and brushed his thumb across her cheekbone, “I have a secret, as well.”
Her bright eyes locked on his. “You do? What is it?”
He smiled deviously. “I can’t tell any secrets. It’s a rule.” He winked and waited; it wasn’t long.
“Oh, I’ll tell you if you tell me first!” She climbed all over him, giggling ferociously and squirming in his arms.
He bellowed joyously and cradled her to his chest as he sat up. “Okay, little Lora Joan. I’ll tell you my secret, if you promise to tell me yours.”
She grinned and nodded. “I promise!”
“Then it’s a deal.” He locked his smallest finger with hers, and the swear was made. “My secret is… I love your sister with all my heart.” He whispered the words in her ear, his hand cupped to protect the words from floating away.
She giggled and patted his hand. “I already knew that, Noah. You have to tell me something I [/i]don’t[i] know.”
“Hm. Alright.” He squared his jaw and fell into thought. Perhaps he could tell her of all the times he had waited for his father to come home. Maybe his secret was that he had never added words to a song that he wrote; they only weighed down the tune, as far as he was concerned. The guitar was like his soul: an un-tame eagle that wanted to soar. If anything weighed on him, he would most definitely fall. “I guess… my secret would be that I don’t know how to make cookies.”
Lora Joan laughed and looked to her plate. “But they’re so tasty! You’re silly.” She sighed softly and leaned her forehead on his chest. “Jupiter’s in the dancing room.”
His chin dropped so he could look at her. “The dancing room?”
Her head nodded, and her eyes lifted to his. “Jupie’s a ballerina.”
Their laughter echoed through the graveyard. It was a strange place to meet for dance practice, but it was also secret. The group of young ladies was too busy being normal on a day-to-day basis to indulge in their fantasies about dancing for audiences of thousands.
Jupiter’s eyes were wider than a cat’s as she looked around at the moonlight-stained tombstones. They glittered with the faint dew that was collecting there, as did the grass. It was nearly midnight, and the next day was her sixteenth birthday. Mama was no doubt planning a great gathering of friends and family to celebrate the occasion. At the same time, she was caring for Lora Joan, who had taken to a high fever a few days before. Jupiter helped during the day, but once everyone else was asleep, she spread her wings and flew.
“Alice, watch me,” she whispered before bounding through the aisles of dormant souls. A soft mist gathered around her waist, twirling as she twisted on her toes. Claire clapped her hands and laughed. Her freckles were like dark paint splashed on her face.
There were five girls, all about the same age. They came from various backgrounds and situations, with similar ambitions and ideals. Jupiter had met these kindred creatures at the last baking sale that her church held (one of the stained-glass windows had been shattered by a rather nasty storm nearly three months before). They had been sneaking to hidden meeting places every other night, where they would choreograph their own fantastic dances and perform for each other’s pleasure.
It was their great escape.
The wall of this secret room was built from three large mirrors, fitted together so that every inch of the place was visible to whoever was inside. Jupiter stood in the center, her ankles crossed and her toes pointing in two different directions. Her hands cupped a pocket of air in front of her center, and her eyes were closed. She could hear the soft sound of birds singing outside. Spring was calling. The smallest twitch of a smile tugged on the corner of her mouth.
Her chest rose as she inhaled, and she imagined that her bones were filled with air. Her surreptitious talent was like a shadow under a large house; nobody saw it, nobody thought about it, but it was there.
The flame in her heart grew brighter as she bent her knees, sweeping her arm through the air in a wide arc. Her eyes opened wide to watch the ground fly past her as she twirled. The long strands of her hair whipped about, brushing along her shoulders and down her bare back. Her leotard was deep violet, like the bracelets she wore around her wrist. Her skin glowed faintly in the sunlight that dripped in through the room’s only window.
Eyes watched her from a partially open doorway. She didn’t feel them at first, but once she did, her throat constricted. “Who’s there?” she called, her eyes on the shadow she saw under the door. It was too large to be Lora Joan.
The white wood moved aside, and in stepped a man with dark hair. He was staring at her, obviously amazed. “Just me,” he said softly, his eyes leaving hers only to move down her body.
She attempted to cover herself, as if she were naked, and frowned deeply at him. “Noah, what are you doing in here?”
His smile was bright. “Lora Joan told me I could find you here. You’re so beautiful, I didn’t know you danced.”
Surprise flickered across her face like a half-living flame, and then it was gone. “Why are you looking for me?”
She didn’t move away as he came in front of her. “I only wanted to tell you something.”
“Oh?” A small sparkle had appeared in her brilliant eyes. “What’s this?”
He took her hands in his and moved closer to her. “I love you, Jupiter. I want to be with you.”
She gasped and tore her hands from his. “I’m married, Noah!” she cried in horror, turning away from him. Tears welled in her eyes as her fists clenched. How could he do this to her? She wanted to be with him too, it was true, but she couldn’t just leave her husband. She glared down at the ring on her finger. She couldn’t just leave… could she? “What do you want me to tell you?”
She heard him sigh, and then his arms were around her. She couldn’t help herself; she melted like butter in the sun. “I want you to tell me what’s in your heart,” he whispered as he kissed her neck.
“I…” She shivered and pulled away from him again, but not out of reach. “I love you too,” she murmured.[/i]
chapter twenty-nine: before you make that leap
[i]A man sat at Jupiter’s table. He had become unfamiliar since the last time she set eyes on him; his black hair had formed a small moustache, and his hairline was receding. His grey eyes were cold and lonely. Across his knee, he rested clasped, thin hands. She couldn’t look away from them, for some reason.
“You are still beautiful, Jupiter,” he said pleasantly, without looking at her. His gaze wandered over the china set upon the table, the small kitchen that had, for a time, been his. “How is your fellow? What was his name…? Judas?” He chuckled dryly and brushed a small cluster of crumbs from beside his hand.
“His name is Noah,” she said in a somber tone, “And he is travelling.”
“Oh?” His spiteful curiosity brought him forward. “Where is he? Someplace lovely, I hope.”
Jupiter sighed and turned her head from him. “I don’t know.” She didn’t want to deal with him. He would only rub in the fact that Noah had left her for the world. He would grind it into her wounds until she bled black. “Excuse me,” she muttered, standing from the table. She didn’t glance at him as she left the kitchen.
Her bedroom welcomed her with warm, sunny arms. She fell on her bed with a large sigh and wrapped herself up in the sheets. It was silent and soft here, and she wanted to stay forever.
Footsteps came to her door. She forced herself to look, and there he stood. “What are you doing?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her. His fingers were tucked into the shallow pockets of his work pants. It looked as if he had just dropped by on his way home.
“I’m enjoying my bed,” she replied, though she cut her enjoyment short by moving away from its comfort. She moved to the dresser against the wall and quietly sifted through the jewelry she kept upon it. There was the necklace Mama had given her when she turned sixteen. Beside it lay a tiny ring of dried grass that Lora Joan had made her. She smiled and touched it gently, then moved to the small black bag she never opened. Its cloth was velvet and soft in her palm as she opened it and pulled out a diamond ring. She turned to him and held it out. “This is yours, I believe.”
He came forward and looked down at the old thing. It had been several years since he had given it to her, the ring his mother had used to marry his father. It was precious to him. He held it tightly. “Thank you,” he said softly, his eyes moving to her face. She was cold to him, as he assumed she was to the world. She was obviously very troubled.
Jupiter moved to her bed and sat in the tangled blankets. She stared at the floor, her eyes faintly glazed over by tears she wouldn’t cry.
“Jupiter.” He sat beside her, though he made sure not to touch her. He felt her gaze on his face, piercing and questioning. “You can tell me anything, you know.” He turned to her and smiled a little. “I may not be your husband anymore… but I could still be your friend.”
Her eyes filled with tears. “But I hurt you so much…”
A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “Oh, Jupiter.” He lifted a hand and wiped away the moisture spilling over her cheeks. “Everyone gets hurt sometimes. It was my time… and now it’s yours.” He took her hand in his and held it tightly. “It will get better someday,” he promised. [/i]
[i]Noah could count the stars that sparkled in her eyes. Each constellation danced and twirled in the vibrant color, and the moon glowed on her skin. They sat, side by side, in the patch of strawberries Jupiter had planted with Lora Joan. She was smiling at him.
“I… wanted to tell you something,” he said softly, lowering his eyes. Her confusion was evident as she waited for him to continue. He couldn’t meet her eyes again; he knew she wouldn’t like what he had to say. “I’ve been thinking a lot.”
Her expression changed. She was no longer happy and eager to talk and just be with him. He could see fear’s claws sinking into her. “What…” she swallowed with difficulty. “What have you been thinking about?”
She was already hurt and he hadn’t even said anything. He bit down on his tongue. Maybe he could just say “Never mind,” and everything could go back to normal, to the way it had been a single moment before. He wanted to go back, but he knew that he couldn’t. The gaping hole in chest shivered and reminded him of his decision. He gritted his jaw and lifted his eyes to hers. Her anxiety shot through his head and filled his blood with ice, but he said, “I want to " no… I have to find myself.”
“Find yourself?” she spouted. “Why don’t you know where you are? You’re right here, with me.”
He closed his eyes. “Please, Jupiter.” He could feel her trembling beside him. “I want to know… if I had to …leave, would you ever come with me?”
They looked at each other, and he knew she never could.
“I’m sorry, I just… I have to get out of here. I have to be glad to be in my head again.” His golden gaze pleaded with her, desperately needing acceptance. “You understand that, don’t you?”
Her brow wrinkled and her lip curled. “No, I don’t understand that.” She moved away from him, shrinking in on herself. “Have I done something wrong?” Her eyes sparked. “Tell me what I did wrong, and I’ll fix it. I’ll do better!”
He watched the tears collect and begin to spill. “You did nothing wrong,” he said, tenderly reaching out to cup her cheek. He felt her blushing skin on his palm and wished he could do this without hurting her. “This is nothing you did. I just… it’s me.” Her visible disbelief made him frown deeply and take her hands, earnestly explaining to her, “I know there is something that will make me complete. There’s something wrong inside me, that doesn’t fit together right.”
“I’m not enough to complete you?”
His heart sobbed inside his chest. “Oh darling, you are everything that I could ever want or need in a woman.” He squeezed her fingers in his, not letting her cave in on herself. “Listen to me. You are perfect. You are so amazing… you make me happier than I have ever been in my life.” He smiled faintly, but it faded in the face of her blank stare. He couldn’t give up yet; she had to understand. “It’s not your fault that I’m doing this. It’s because I need…” His mind cast out a line for the next words, something that could explain his actions, but he came up empty-handed. He growled in frustration and looked to her again. “Jupiter, please. Trust me, and trust what I say to you. I know this hurts you, and I wish it didn’t. I wish that I could go and you wouldn’t miss me, that I could soothe the pain. I wish with all of my heart that this didn’t hurt you.”
“Yes, well,” she snapped, “it does.”
He bowed his head in shame. “I know…”
“Then why are you doing this?” She looked at him, broken and enraged. “How could you do this to me, especially if you know how much it hurts? What is making you do this? If it’s not me, then what is the reason? I’m trying to understand this for you, Noah.”
“I… have to take care of myself.” It seemed to overtake him, the need to explain. “If I don’t take care of myself, then how can I expect to take care of you? There are some things I need… I’m not sure what they all are yet, but I’m going to find out. That’s the entire point in life, to find what pieces fit together to make you.” He smiled a little and almost touched her heart, but he was too afraid she would reject his loving reassurance. “I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t expect you to forgive me. I don’t expect anything from you. The only thing I want is for you to know that I love you, and I will come back when I know what comes next.”
“What makes you think that I’ll wait for you?” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse, and her cheeks were drenched with boiling tears. “What gives you the right to do this to me?”
“My right to live,” he murmured. “My right to pursue what finishes the puzzle of my being.” A soft sigh fell from his lips, and he tried to tell himself that this was right. This was what he needed, and there was no way that he could deny himself a sane existence. “I love you, Jupiter. I will see you when I am complete.”[/i]
chapter thirty: well you know I’m fine
Jupiter’s words drifted through his brain as they approached the white door at the end of the path. “I want you to meet someone,” she had told him. Noah " still astonished that she was even blessing him with her voice " agreed instantly. His eyes were on her face " or some part of her body, perhaps the small spatter of freckles he had spotted on her collarbone that hadn’t been there before " at all times. He orbited her every word, every motion, a happy satellite by her side.
So, when they stopped on the porch and Jupiter knocked on the door, he seemed not to notice it opening. A soft glow of light bathed Jupiter’s hair, and Noah found himself entranced. The small burst of cool air reminded him that she smelled like sun and flowers.
“Oh, Jupiter!” a voice cried in joy. “Feels like it’s been ages.”
Noah turned his eyes to see a little old woman whom he had met once before. He smiled widely and extended his arms to her.
She shuffled into his embrace, a dusty giggle exiting her lips. “I see you found what you were looking for,” she said, burying her face in his chest.
He held her close, breathing in her old people smell. She was like a mother. “Hi, Miss Mays. I wanted to thank you for your help.” He smiled to Jupiter, then saw her astonished expression. “Oh,” he explained, “I met her when I asked if you still lived next door.”
The elderly woman clucked her tongue and took Jupiter’s hand, giving it several soft pats. “I told you about that, dear, don’t you remember?”
“Oh… well that’s swell. Do you mind if we come in for tea?” Her turquoise eyes sparkled as she betrayed herself, confessing: “I’d love it if we could all talk.”
It was unanimously decided that they move into the backyard, where Miss Mays often sat and listened to the trees. She owned nearly ten chairs, “reserved for visitors” that she never actually had. The ground was lush and bright green, littered with little yellow dandelions. Noah spotted a few white ones, round and leaning to the wind.
Miss Mays went back inside to get the tea, insisting she do it herself in response to the couple’s offers of help. When they were alone, they sat together in silence, each thinking on the other. Were they together again? Would everything go back to normal, or would they have to start all over?
Noah gazed at the empty chairs surrounding them. Before he left, he could have easily sat here with all the people in his life, and everyone have a seat. Since his return, that number had multiplied substantially. He liked it that way.
Jupiter watched the clouds roll by, twisting and spinning above. She remembered all the times it had rained in the past four years. When the sky had finally let go of its hurt for the death of the sun, it rained for a week straight.
Miss Mays returned with a tray of cups, sugars, creams and spices. She liked to experiment with flavors, now that her teeth were too weakened to enjoy the texture of food. The soft tinkling of china accompanied her sweet voice. “What are you two staring at like that? Looks like ghosts have your attention,” she huffed teasingly. When they both turned and began to apologize, she stopped them short. “It’s alright. Now, how sweet would you like your tea?”
Most of the beginning conversation came from Miss Mays’ mouth. She was filling the silence that stood between her two beloved guests with stories and encouragements to jump in anytime. Noah contributed snippets here and there, mostly asking questions to keep her talking. His uncle had a smooth and rustic voice, and hearing Miss Mays talk reminded him of how he had learned to keep the enjoyable sound of someone’s voice going.
“So, do you believe in God?” Religion was powerful enough to turn someone over in their grave.
Taking her cue with a twinkle in her eye, the old woman began. “I do believe in a God, but it’s certainly not a He. God doesn’t have a gender, because sex changes things. It always does, whether you’re a deity or a mortal. Men got strength, women got intelligence. Men look to the future while women linger in the past. Meanwhile, the present is all forgotten. God doesn’t have a gender. God exists in the present, and it’s the one in charge!” She let out a burst of laughter, then sipped her nearly black tea with subdued chuckles. “That says something right there. Why do you think everyone down here is so miserable? Nobody lives in the present. We’re all in control of our own lives, and we waste them wanting a time we don’t have.” Her faintly yellow teeth flashed in a smile. “I’m happy. Have you noticed?”
Jupiter felt like her heart had been grabbed and held tightly in someone’s hand. [i]I want to be happy,[/i] a voice cried from within her. She leaned forward in her chair. “How do you do that?” She didn’t notice her eagerness, but decided to clarify. “I mean… forget the past?” Her eyes flitted toward Noah, and then returned to Miss Mays, who smiled.
“Jupiter, dear…” She took Jupiter’s hand in both of hers. “It’s not that hard to be happy. You just haven’t wanted to let go yet.”
“Oh…” Jupiter ran the words over and over in her mind, like listening to a record as it skipped. She didn’t feel Noah’s eyes on her, and she didn’t hear his silent wondering.
“What about when you die?” Noah asked, shifting his gaze from the woman he loved. “What do you think will happen?”
“You go first,” she quipped. “I just told you all that, now you share some.”
A songbird flew past their area, music fading through the tree leaves and sunshine. Noah leaned back in his seat, lowering his eyes to the grass. The leaves shivered in the wind. “I don’t know,” he muttered.
“Oh, come on. If you had to guess, what would you believe?”
“Well…” He sighed and looked up at a solitary cloud drifting above them. “If I had to guess, I would say… nothing happens. Life just ends. That’s what I would believe.” Silence descended on them, smothering their internal voices as the breeze tickled their skin.
Jupiter was the one to speak first. “I don’t think that’s right,” she said quietly. “Just because someone dies doesn’t mean they’re not there anymore.” Turning her aquamarine eyes to Noah, she felt the setting sun gently touch her hair. “Lora Joan is still alive, in my head.” The defiant crinkle between her eyebrows made Miss Mays giggle.
“You are living in the past,” she told her with a smile. “Let go, Jupiter. You have to let go to move forward.”
When they had finished their tea, hugs were exchanged. As the couple was exiting the front door, Miss Mays took Noah’s elbow and whispered to his ear: “Jupiter is different now. Don’t love who she used to be. Fall in love with who she is today.” He took the words and tucked them into a pocket on the inside of his skull, giving her a reassuring nod before he followed Jupiter down the path.
The wordlessness stretched between them until they reached her kitchen. It was dark now. Their minds were working slowly, turning and processing what it meant to be alone together with these thoughts in their heads.
Awkwardly, Noah searched for a conversation. “Miss Mays is nice,” he offered.
“You’re right,” was Jupiter’s reply.
He was determined to make it last longer. “How often do you talk to her?”
“About once a week. Why did you hug her?” Her eyes weren’t looking at him, but he could see the fire in them as she spoke. “You only met her once before.”
Noah frowned and thought of how to sooth her hackles. “She feels like a mother to me,” he said in his defense. “There aren’t many old ladies in my life, so I’m very glad she’s here.” He had laid it all out: his feelings, his intimate reasons, and his determination to take no bullshit from her, just as she wouldn’t stand it from him.
Jupiter pursed her lips, slightly annoyed by his behavior. What was he trying to prove? He was very passive aggressive about getting a point across. She remembered that about him, among other things. She, however, liked to go straight through the bush. “So what’s all that ‘nothing happens when we die’ bologna?”
“I don’t believe that, necessarily. It was a what-if. Like, what if today was yesterday?” He paused. “Well, it’s not. Yesterday is gone.” He averted his golden eyes, hiding behind the curling ends of his dark hair. “Miss Mays is right, Jupiter.”
She completely ignored everything he said, still intent on her own goal. “No, answer my question. You said that if you believed anything, it would be that nothing happens after we die. Why would you believe that?”
“Why are you so mad? It’s just what I [i]would[/i] believe. All the other explanations for the afterlife seem too unlikely. Nothing about them says to me: I’m more than a fairy tale.” He shrugged and fidgeted with the pocket of his pants. “This is America. I have rights.”
She let out a frustrated sigh. “Noah, do you really believe that Lora Joan is completely gone? That she’s not in a better place, somewhere?” A little light shone in her eyes. “What if she’s part of a rainbow?” she whispered.
Noah tried not to roll his eyes. Her hopes were simply too much to ask of the universe. “I do believe she’s in a better place,” he said, drawing her attention. “She’s in our memories.”
Her nose crinkled as she turned away. She had already learned this lesson; she wanted nothing more to do with it.
Her eyes shifted to him. “Yes, Noah?”
“Do… you think you could love me again?” The only real question in his mind, finally presented in his golden eyes.
She was almost too stunned to speak. “That all depends. Will you abandon me again?” she flung in his face.
He didn’t lower his gaze, though he desperately wanted to. Now was the time to be strong. “I don’t know,” he answered truthfully.
“Well there’s your answer!” She threw her hands up like he was a lost cause. “How can you be so uncertain? Why can’t you know anything for sure? Do you even know if you ever really loved me?”
He leaned forward, his stare becoming intense. “I love y- er…” he faltered as he remembered what Miss Mays had said. [i]Don’t love who she used to be.[/i]
“See!?” Jupiter cried, rising from her chair in a flurry. “You don’t even know that. You’re clueless!”
He stood as well, coming a step toward her. “Come on, Jupiter. It’s been four years. We’re completely different people from what we remember of each other. I mean, I’m coated in tattoos, you smoke cigarettes. I want the old you back, but that’s not you anymore. So I don’t know if I love you. I don’t know you anymore.”
His earnestness subsided suddenly, as did her anger. They stood like two trees in an empty field, so motionless that time did not affect them. Jupiter moved first, walking slowly past him. The space between them became smaller and thinner, until finally it didn’t exist anymore. When her shoulder touched his; when her elbow brushed against his; when their fingers touched, time began again.
“Jupiter,” he said, giving in to her gentle contact.
She turned to him, staring into his face. “Yes?” She was struggling to let go, twisting to keep her balance on the top of the fence. In his face she saw her younger lover, less tan and gentler with his guitar and her heart.
“Jupiter, look at me.”
“I am,” she said with a frown.
Noah shook his head and shaggy locks. “You’re looking right through me.”
Her brow furrowed as she blinked repeatedly. She lifted a hand to rub at her eyes, then looked up at him. His curling hair draped down over his ears and forehead, teasingly reaching to his eyebrows. It was nearly black. She glanced down to his exposed arms, where tattoos smiled and waved at her. “Are there any in other places?” she said, looking to his eyes that seemed as though they were forged from the sun’s rays.
A faint smile tweaked his lips. “Yes. Would you like to see?”
She felt the danger creeping up in her throat and loved the flavor. “Yes.”
His smile grew wider, his fingers lifting to pluck his shirt’s buttons apart. He paused when he reached the last one, looking to her face.
She gestured for him to continue as she pulled his shirt apart, her eyes feasting on the ink vine that snaked across his collar and down his chest. She stepped around him, pulling the shirt off his shoulders and helping it slide down his arms. As the cloth revealed skin, she documented each tensing muscle. There was a small yellow bird taking flight over the mountain of his shoulder. At the top of his spine, there was a small sun with wavering rays. Her fingers crept under his hair, lifting to reveal a line written along his hairline. [i]’Je suis juste là.’[/i] “What does it say?” she asked, her finger tracing the curling words.
“I’m right here,” he muttered, his head tilted forward.
Jupiter looked down and noticed what seemed to be a kiss staining his skin. She lowered her head and pressed her mouth to the lip-shaped tattoo, finding with pleasure that a shudder rippled through his body. “What’s this one for?” she asked, tracing her finger up his spine.
He shifted a little uncomfortably, looking over his shoulder at her. “You already know,” he replied, barely above a whisper. She touched his back in a way she never had before, like she wanted to crawl right inside his skin and breathe with his lungs, and it pulled shivers from the depths of his body. He felt her fingertips going over the design that lay in the small of his back. Each individual petal of the water lily that she traced was visible in his mind’s eye.
“Why did you get this one?” she wondered out loud, her hand sliding up toward his shoulder.
He turned to her and pulled her hand to his heart, where a small solar system peeked between her knuckles. “I don’t remember.”
Her disappointment lasted only long enough for her to decide she didn’t like the taste, and let the emotion go. “When’s the last time you kissed someone?” she questioned, looking to his luscious lips with a touch of innocent envy.
There was no shame or embarrassment in his words. “About seven months ago.” His eyes followed hers, almost wary to hope. “You?”
She smiled, but there was no malice in her gaze. “Four years.” She pulled him closer, tasting the breath that left his lips. “Do you love me?”
Their eyes met, only inches apart. “I don’t know,” he replied without hesitance, though he trailed off in confusion.
“Do you want me?”
“Yes,” he said immediately, and watched a pleased smile cross her features. He returned, “Do you want me?”
During the second it took her to answer, Noah counted the pores that sparkled on her cheek. The darkness of night was close around them, thick like a blanket. The small rays of moonlight that lit their faces seemed to be the only light in the world, illuminating each in the other’s eyes.
“I do want you,” she said. “And… I think I can let go.”
chapter thirty-one: but i hear those voices at night sometimes
[i]Under the pale summer sun, among the clovers where she met her sister's prince (who had since abandoned his throne by Jupiter's side), Lora Joan found a secret something she suspected might be love. It was in the face of a boy, blue-eyed and too timid to say hello. She decided to help him escape the silence that swamped every one of the ten feet between them.
"I'm Lora Joan," she offered hopefully, pushing her curls away from her eyes with the heel of her hand. "I like your hair."
She could see the embarrassment as it crept into his cheeks, a sneaky red demon embedded in his skin. The mop on his skull looked more like the backside of a porcupine than something that would grow out of a human head. It wasn't parted to the side, it wasn't combed back; it was a wild mess, and Lora Joan loved it.
"Thanks," he muttered toward his lap. "I like yours, too."
She smiled and looked with crossed eyes at a curly strand that rested on her nose, shining like spun gold. "My sister washes it for me every other day." She stroked her hair softly as she eyed him. "Why don't you come over here?"
He seemed to consider this for a very long time. Just as she was growing impatient with him, he put his hands to the ground and stood. The tall grass bent and swayed as he came through it, and then plopped down in front of her. Now that he was closer, she could count the freckles like constellations on his skin.
"Do you want some of my chocolate?" she asked. The glint in his eye was all the answer she needed. She reached into her dress pocket and pulled t the little wrapper Jupiter had presented to her earlier that week. Lora Joan had been treasuring the sweet brown block inside, knowing all too well that once it was gone, it would stay that way. She broke off a chunk as wide as her thumb and held it out to him. Watching him take pleasure in the cocoa goodness made her mouth turn into a toothy grin. "So what's your name?"
"Jason," he said, the first hint of a smile showing on his plump, chocolately lips.
"My sister's name is Jupiter. She's over there." Her arm lifted, her hand lazily indicating the house across the street.
He looked intently at the ivy-colored walls, as if he were staring straight through them. "Are your parents there?"
Silence overcame her. She felt the sweet jubilance drain from her expression. "Jupiter is my parent," she explained.
He considered this for a moment. "Well... don't you have a mother?"
She shook her head and shrugged her tiny shoulders. "I guess not. Jupie never told me about her."
Lora Joan was pleased to find that he was willing to let it drop like the lifeless, dead flower it was. The topic wasn't worth her interest. She watched him finish the piece of chocolate, disappearing into the eager cave of his mouth, and then gave him another. As she nibbled on her own bit of sugary heaven, he spoke again.
"My Da built a tree house in our yard," he said, glancing at her to catch any trace of precious fascination in her eyes.
"Jupiter said I can't leave here." Her voice was dead, her bright eyes glazed with thought.
"Oh." Jason frowned, his dirty fingers fidgeting with a flower by his knee. "Why?"
Their eyes met, and she felt tears beginning to surge. She quickly blinked them away and turned from him, unwilling to let go of her hurt. "Because I'm sick. I have to stay here."
The hot bubbles threatened to burst all over her cheeks, but she couldn't cry.
"Are you going to get better?"
She looked at him and saw two huge blue eyes asking for a way in. The frown on her mouth only deepened. "Maybe," she whispered, dropping her ees to the clover. She picked at the rounded little leaves, letting them fly in the breeze that accompanie them. "Probably not, though."
"Are you going to die?"
The tears could hide no longer. They exploded from her eyes, tearing a single sob from her lips. As soon as it had happened, she slapped both hands over her face and held her breath. [/i]Don't cry, don't cry. [i]She slowly convinced it all to go away, but she still felt it lurking behind her teeth, hiding in her head, ready to pounce the moment weakness broke her down again.
Something rested in her lap and reached around her middle. She parted her hands, letting the sunlight kiss her drying tears, and looked down to find Jason curled up around her, head placed gently in her lap.
"You can be sad," he said to her dress skirt. "I cried when my mother died."
She placed her palm on the nape of his neck. "I'm sorry, Jason."
"I'm not." The boy sighed and moved to sit beside her. "It made my Da come home again."
Considering this, Lora Joan picked at a dandelion by her knee.
"What's your name?"
"Oh... it's Lora Joan."
Her eyes widened slightly as she felt his fingers holding hers. "I'll remember you, Lora Joan." She looked at him and felt her cheeks begin to burn. "When you die, I mean." Embarrassed, he let go of her hand and lay flat on his back. "Because you'll be an angel, like my mother." He pointed up to the sky, a distant smile touching his lips.
Her eyes lifted to the clouds, twisting and dancing with the sunlight. She lay next to him and reached up toward the heavens with both hands. "I'll remember you, too." [/i]
chapter thirty-two: they justify my claim
The glittering sparks of fire leapt toward the night sky within his cupped hand. His palm was bathed in warm golden light, and it flickered among the curves and shadows of his face. He looked toward Jupiter, carefully keeping his mouth from frowning as he offered the flame to the tip of the cigarette pursed between her lips. They looked much softer than the day he had first come home; they seemed moisturized and happy as a small smile tweaked them.
“Thank you,” she said before kissing the tube and inhaling. She moved it from her mouth a moment later and parted her lips, letting the heavy cloud of smoke drift above her face. Watching it fade into the shape of stars, Jupiter drew breath again.
They stood beside his truck, parked near her house. The night before, they had talked extensively about their thoughts and had managed to come to the conclusion that a visit to the Lake was in order. The storm that had stood between them was, without a doubt, calmed.
Noah lit the flame once every second, staring silently into the blue dome of light. After a minute, he felt Jupiter’s eyes on him. They were slightly inquisitive, but not criticizing as they had been before. He smiled, feeling safe with her again. “Let’s go for a drive,” he said.
Jupiter took pleasure in the cool burst of air that raced in through the open window of Noah’s truck. A smile glowed in her features, and she felt her heart rising higher than it had in her entire life. She turned her head to look at Noah and melted from the inside out. The moon lay behind him, bathing his silhouette in soft silver. The breeze tousled his hair, and his eyes sparkled toward the dark road. She licked her lips and sucked them between her teeth, biting down on them as her cheeks warmed. Her lips parted, letting out a soft sigh of happiness.
He glanced toward her, a smile twitching on his lips when he saw her looking. “Hey, beautiful,” he said above the wind. He was caught for a moment by the deep green of her eyes, the blue that deepened into her pupil and dragged him in. With a bit of work, he turned back to the road. “I forgot what your eyes looked like while I was gone… I could only remember that I loved them.” He was thankful for the dim starlight that hid his blush.
“Mm,” she sighed, turning to look out the window. She heard leaves rustling nearby as they followed the slightly curving road. When she lifted her eyes, she saw the glittering stars stretched across the sky. She lifted her hand to tuck the flying strands of her hair behind her ear. “Why did you leave?”
A still silence fell over them. Jupiter imagined Noah’s brow creasing together as he thought. “I left because… I felt like there was something I hadn’t found yet.”
“Did you find it out there?”
He shrugged and shifted his hands on the steering wheel. “No.”
Quieted, Jupiter peered further out the window. He seemed content with the fact that he hadn’t found what he was looking for, even though he had left in such a hurry at the beginning of that four-year absence. She didn’t understand how he could be at peace with himself if his goal hadn’t been reached. Her body turned so that she could see his face and watch him drive. His mouth showed no trace of a frown; his eyes shone in the white light.
Her gentle stare drew his attention. “Jupiter… I have something to tell you.” He placed his hand over hers on her lap, smiling at the feeling of her fingers squeezing his for a moment. “The best thing I could do with my life is be with you… and I should have never forgotten that.”
She felt her heart warming and melting into every corner of her skin. “I love you, Noah.”
“I love you, Jupiter.”
Splitting the gentle waves of the breeze hitting their faces was the sound of rubber ripping at the street. Two pairs of eyes turned to the road ahead, into the darkness that swallowed everything but them and their love. The screeching sound lifted again, piercing Jupiter’s ears, and she gripped Noah’s hand tighter. “We should pull over,” she said, looking to him. “We can walk the rest of the way.”
He wasn’t looking at her. He shook his head a little, frowning over the steering wheel. “No… it’s okay.” His eyes squinted slightly, and then he leaned back in his seat. “See? Everything’s fine.”
Her mouth pulled down at the corners as she stared into the blackness. She saw a flash of white, metal reflecting their own lights, and then the world exploded.
chapter thirty-three: on a lonely night
Joan stared through the glossy surface of the bath water. Tiny air bubbles
clung to the line of peach fuzz dividing her abdomen. She watched as, one by
one, they wriggled upward to meet the air above the softly steaming water. She
filled her lungs with a hot breath and held it, feeling her torso rise and
break the surface. Then she exhaled and dropped like a slow-motion feather
chapter thirty-four: it’s all in my mind
distant emptiness in her glacial eyes made his insides squirm. It hurt him to
think that she would only know him as a stranger, possibly a visitor to the ill
woman in the next bed. There wasn’t so much as a glimmer of vague recognition.
She really had no memory of him. Before this moment, he had never realized just
how powerful his need for her was.
© 2012 Mika Belland
AboutI live in Colorado, near the mountains. I listen to the Smiths, Moby, Dave Matthew Band, Pink Floyd, and many others. My mom is an artist, my dad is a writer, and I plan to someday be like Stephen Kin.. more..