13. Peyton and his S(t)(c)ars

Start from the beginning

Holding a worn map in one hand and my daddy's flashlight in the other, Peyton hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, glancing periodically from the map the the sky, then back again.

When I had said that Peyton loved his stars, I'd meant it.

It all started when he was eight years old. His grandfather had showed him the planet Saturn through his telescope. Ten years later, Peyton was a veritable nut, able to harp on and on for hours and hours about the planets, stars, constellations, comets, black holes and galaxies. He had loads of fancy telescopes, refractors, and CCD cameras at home. He spent hours and hours on websites and forums for amateur astronomers. He even went to these weird star gazing "parties" with a bunch of really old people.

All of it bored me to tears. It was beyond mind numbingly dull. I had enough to worry about here on earth - I couldn't care less about whatever was going light years above my head.

"The only thing I would change about you," he'd told me once, "is your complete inability to grasp the vastness of the universe. I just don't get how you could not get it and wonder about it."

I thought that was a pretty mean thing to say, but I guess that's what passion can do to people. It can make you blind and hurtful without meaning to.

A sharp nudge to my shoulder brought me back to the present.

"You said you would look Layla," said Peyton, uncharacteristically frustrated.

"Okay, okay," I sighed. I put my phone down and dutifully turned my head up toward the sky. "I'm looking," I said, "What am I looking for?"

"Find the North Star and you can use that as a reference point for everything else. Do you see it?"

I nodded and pointed at a random point in the sky.

He shot me a look of disdain, grabbed my hand and pointed it in the correct direction.

"That's what I meant," I mumbled.

"Backtracking. Let's start with something that can't be missed even if you try. You do see the Milky Way, don't you?"

I nodded. I did, and yes, it was beautiful. But I'd seen is a million times before and it was nothing to stare all night at. Not when I could be playing Candy Crush on my brand new phone.

"Let's find Cassiopeia. It's in there. Five stars that you can connect into a 'W.' Once we find that, we can use it to look for Andromeda, Perseus, and Cepheus."

Oh, great.

I pretended to squint for an appropriate length of time, then nodded. "I think I see it. Right there," I said, pointing, tracing a gigantic 'W' shape against the sky with my index finger.

I must've gotten lucky.

"Layla!" You got it!" he cried, his voice full of astonishment and wonder. "I think you're finally getting this!"

Feeling vaguely guilty, I nodded and smiled. Peyton had been convinced for years that repetition would eventually give way to affinity. He was relentless in his pursuit to convince me to appreciate the intricacies of the night skies.

He launched into a long monologue about Cassiopeia. The legend portion was just barely interesting, and it sounded familiar, so I was pretty sure we'd gone over it before. Then, he started naming and explaining each of the individual stars that made up the constellation, using words like magnitude, rate of rotation, variability and luminosity. I tried to listen, I really did, but my eyes glazed over and eventually, I tuned him him out.

The injury would cost me. If my ankle took two weeks to heal, it would put a significant dent in my paltry savings. That was really bad because I needed the money to pay for college application fees in the fall. I've been budgeting carefully to account for that and now I was going to have to figure something else out.

I sighed.

Peyton stopped talking and looked over at me. I must've looked serious, because he didn't get angry at me for spacing out.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked.

"My ankle," I said, and it wasn't entirely a lie.

"Does it hurt?"

"A little bit," I admitted.

He was silent for a really long time, long enough for me to worry that I'd triggered him into another one of his spells. I grabbed the flashlight from his hand and aimed it at his face to check. He scowled and placed his hand over the light in protest.

I turned my body to face him and patted him lightly on the head. "It'll be all right."

He chuckled softly. "What will be all right?"

"Everything," I said solemnly, "My ankle, me..." I made sure I was looking him straight in the eyes when I said the next part: "You."

His eyes searched mine, as he sometimes did, looking for reassurance. "You think so?"

I nodded. "I think so."

He nodded softly, almost to himself. "You know what I wish?" he asked.

"Tell me," I said.

"I wish we could go live on the moon," he told the sky, "Just you and me, and nobody else."

I didn't say anything for a while, just rested my cheek on my folded hands and stared at his profile. "Do you still dream about that when you look at the stars? Escaping?" I asked quietly.

"Sometimes," he said after a long pause.

"Most of the time?" I pressed.

He shrugged.

"Our world isn't such a bad place, Peyton," I said softly.

He finally turned his face to mine and stared at me in the dark for a long. long time. Then he blinked. "Do you know where we are?"

I propped my head up on my elbow. "Is this is trick question?"

He smiled. "No, no."

When I remained silent, he pointed his flashlight at an empty spot along the edge of the canyon. "Right there," he said. "That's where I jumped."

***Vote, Comment & Share! ^_^ ***

How We Were | ✔️ (Complete)Read this story for FREE!