“How do you stand it here?”
“What do you mean?”
The two of us sat together on top of a giant round hay bale, the largest in the field this year, staring out at the stars. In the chill of a mid-February night and the light of the full Snow Moon, we could see our breath hanging in the air in front of us.
“The dark. The quiet. The…nothing. There’s just nothing to do,” he said.
“I’m used to it, I guess,” I answered.
“I will never get used to it,” he said.
“It’s not that bad. I think you’re blowing things out of proportion.”
“No. You just don’t know the difference.”
“That’s mean,” I said.
“You guys don’t even have a movie theater.”
He’d moved at the beginning of the school year. His parents had dragged him halfway across the country when his dad took a new job, all the way from sunny, funky Austin to the lonely, scrappy mountains of Russell County. We’d met on the first day of school, but only because we had to.
“I’m supposed to give you a tour,” I’d explained, my backpack slung over one shoulder. “It won’t take long.”
“Thanks,” he’d said. “I kind of figured.”
We’d walked up and down the three main hallways and the side wings of the red brick block of a high school. I’d asked about his classes, invited him to sit with me and my friends at lunch. I’d offered to meet him after school and show him around town, or, at least, what little town there was to show. He’d said yes.
It had been almost a half a year since then.
“It’ll start to get warm soon,” I said. “The redbuds are really pretty in spring.”
“Those are trees, right?”
“Yes. The next town over has a festival when they start to bloom. We should go.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay,” I said back. I squeezed his hand.
I’d introduced him to the hay bales on the winter solstice. He’d spent the entire Christmas season lamenting the chintzy 1970s decorations sprinkled along Main Street.
“They’re sort of charming,” I’d said. “Like looking into another time.”
“I spent last Christmas in Germany,” he’d said. “I wish you could see the Christmas markets there.”
“Maybe someday,” I’d answered. “Why aren’t you traveling this year?”
“My dad’s too busy.”
“Come to my house tonight,” I’d offered. “My mom’s making steaks, and I’ve got a surprise for you after.”
I don’t know what sort of surprise he’d expected, but he didn’t seem impressed by the rolling pasture and enormous hay bales.
I’d always walked out to the fields on cold, clear nights. I liked the silence, the peace. And in the winter, I loved the brightness of the stars against the dark, empty landscape. I’d thought maybe he would, too. I didn’t know much about what it was like living in a big city, but I knew it never got dark enough to see the stars.
“This is my own personal light show,” I’d told him. “I wouldn’t bring just anybody out here to see it.”
He’d laughed, and said, “So you think I’m special?”
We’d kissed then, for the first time. “I like you,” I’d told him. “You’re a jerk, but I think you’re pretty cool.”
“I like you, too,” he’d said.
I wanted that night to live in my memory, always.
“I like you,” I told him now. “And I like this.”
“I like you,” he said, from somewhere far away. “It always looks the same out here.”
“Not at all! The constellations are changing all the time.” I pointed up, showed him Orion and the Big Dipper. “Some nights,” I added, “you can see the milky way.” Did he truly not notice? “Once, I saw the Northern Lights. They almost never come this far south.”
“I saw them when I went camping in Alaska.”
“I’ve never been to Alaska.”
“You’ve never been anywhere.”
“I’ve been to Nashville. And to Myrtle Beach.”
He harrumphed, released my hand, and hopped down.
“I’m going home,” he said. “It’s cold and I’m bored.”
“Well, excuse me. Sorry I’m not interesting enough for you.” I took a deep breath, let it out. “You’re being a snob.”
He turned around and looked up at me. “Don’t be like that,” he said.
It usually ended this way. Him, walking away from me to go play whatever latest video game he got online, or to video chat with his friends back in Texas, or to tinker with his computer. Me, on the verge of tears, clenching my jaw to keep from yelling at him, feeling like a dumb small-town hick.
“I’m not being like anything,” I said. “I just wanted to share this with you.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. Let’s just go home, okay?” He started to walk down the hill.
Strictly speaking, the farmer next door didn’t like having trespassers on his land, but because he knew me, he usually let it slide. Our two families had been sharing this little valley for five generations. He wouldn’t start trouble over two stupid kids sitting around on top of hay bales in the dark.
“I thought it might make things better,” I said. “I mean, for you.”
“I thought you might feel better, if you could see what makes this place special.” I hopped down and walked over to him. I caught his hand again, held it up between us in both of mine. “I know it’s not big or loud or anything, but this is something you can only do out in the country. There’s nowhere else in the world quite like this.”
“You’re hopeless,” he said, but he pulled me in and kissed me quick on the lips. “Someday you’ll get out of here, and you’ll understand why I hate it.”
“This is my home,” I told him. “It doesn’t matter where I go. I’ll always be from here.”
“Wait and see,” he said. “You’re too good for this place.”
He turned and walked away. From the bottom of the hill, he called up to me, “Are you coming?”
“No,” I answered. “I’ll stay.”
“Well, see you tomorrow, then.”
I stood right where he left me, planted in that one spot. I looked out ahead at the dark expanse of field and pasture, and at the rolling mountains in the distance, illuminated by the silvery cast of the full moon.
Thank you for reading! This is the second of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.
Here’s January’s story, if you’d like to read it: The Roads
And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here. 😊
The next story will be posted on Friday, March 26th.