Once realization settled in my veins, I shrank into the seat, hoping I could become it. I couldn’t see far enough into the clearing to know if anyone else was there. But I thought I heard the crunch of feet on the autumn grass, coming around the side of the truck before me. Harp shifted beside me, eyes trailing between my anxiety-contorted face and the truck. Two people appeared, shielding their faces from my brights.
I recognized them both.
I flipped off the lights, turned off the car, and shoved the nervous energy that coursed through me out of my mind. I attempted to send a reassuring smile to Harp, but by her confused expression it was clear I failed.
There was a tap at my window from one of them. So they did recognize me, or at least they thought I was someone they knew. Or they were just bold. I pushed open the door. The two stepped back and I squinted at them in the now-dim light. I was thankful we met now, in the darkness, I think, because they couldn’t see the black and blue I was sporting on my face, at least, it would just look like the night’s eerie shadows cast under my eyes. Couldn’t see how angry it looked today, how much worse it’d gotten. Purple, yellow. Yet, I still felt nervous as their eyes lingered on me, checking out every inch of my body, trying to remember what I used to be.
They didn’t look exactly the same as they did back then, but people don’t change that much. It was hard to see them in the darkness, only illuminated by the cars. Same eyes, same nose, same goofy smile, same clothes. Same beer. Maybe if I looked closer I’d notice the differences. The stars were vastly more interesting than any person this town had ever produced, so I looked up.
We all stared at each other for a minute before one of them broke the silence.
“Holy shit!” Mark said. “Is that really you, Faust?”
I shrugged. Harp had clambered out of the car to stand beside me. She waved.
“Hey Mark! Zeke! I didn’t think we’d see anyone up here.”
Mark, the taller—and broader—of the two grinned at her. “Faust ‘n I used to come up here all the time with the guys!” Zeke nodded along.
There used to be so many of us, we crammed shoulder to shoulder in the truck bed, ‘cause no one but Mark could drive yet. Legally.
“We were about to head on out, but we should hang out again, since you’re back in town,” Zeke said. He fished in his pocket and produced his phone. “At least, you better be staying a while! We never got to see you when you visited Becka. What’s your number? Since you hopefully have a phone now.”
My phone was one of the few things I brought with me when I left my husband’s place. And while I didn’t really want to exchange numbers quite yet, when I looked like my face got hit by a train, and I was living at my sister’s house, running away from life, I felt warmer that they even thought to ask me. And I felt calm, stress eased with how casually they spoke, as if it hadn’t been six years. I wondered if they missed me as I grabbed Zeke’s phone. I wondered if they ever thought about me or talked about me as I typed in my name and number in a new contact. Mark peered over, copying down what I wrote into his own contacts.
“When we get signal again, I’ll make a group chat,” Mark assured me. “Unfortunately we gotta split. Since it’s late and all.“
“See you around. I hope we can catch up soon,” Zeke said, leaving us alone to climb into the truck. Mark waved goodbye before joining him, then they pulled around Beck’s car, blinding us momentarily, before disappearing into the night we emerged from.
Harp grabbed my hand, dragging me to the center of the clearing. “It’s been a while, huh… I thought you woulda caught up last time you visited. Anyway! They work at the florist, now. Uhh, with that old woman… Angela?”
I could only nod. Shock had set in now and I crumpled into the once-soft grass. The people I once knew were still here, living their lives, yet so similar. I missed them. I missed being a kid with them. And they seemed excited to see me—perhaps because they hadn’t seen me change.
Harp sat beside me, leaning back on her hands, gazing at the sky. She looked how I used to when I came out here, the only one fully immersed in the constellations, the stories running across the sky. Back then, I’d watch everyone drink and fuck around, while I sat outside their circle. Mark and Zeke would come bug me anyway, begging me to join their mischief. Sometimes I did. But mostly I sat alone, watching the stars.
I gathered myself, just long enough to tell Harp about the constellations we could see tonight. She looked on with wide eyes, wonder swimming in her irises.
We sat out there a long time. Eventually I laid down, dozing on and off.
“Thanks for hanging out with me,” she said.
“No prob,” I replied. “Y’know, I was thinking about just bringing you to your friend’s place anyway.”
“Huh? Wait, like lying?”
I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. A little lying never hurt anyone. Beck’s weird. If you want to see your friends, it’s fine, right? I mean, obviously I’m not gonna do that now, but… y’know. Next time. If you want.”
She was quiet for a moment, save her breathing.
“That means a lot. Thanks.”
“You wanna head home now?”
We didn’t really talk much in the car, at least not until we hit the edge of town again. Harp said her friend’s name was Clover and that they met in choir. Clover just moved from upstate, so she didn’t know shit about fuck around here—she didn’t say it like that, but I knew. That was two years ago. Now they were close—best friends. Harp said they went to pride last year, in the city. I glanced at her and saw the slightest smile on her lips.
“I’m surprised Beck let you go,” I mused. She hates unnecessary trips to the city, especially if it was for events that attracted such a massive crowd. Traffic. She’d refused any time I asked her.
“... We never told her.”
I didn’t need to look at her to know she was frowning, to feel the strain in her words. I wanted to ask her why, but we had pulled into the driveway, and Beck was waving at us from the kitchen window. Harp cleared her throat before popping open the door and leaving me there to wonder about her, if this secret went any deeper.