I’m sitting on the wooden deck, trying to play the A13th chord on guitar, when Mom comes out. She is excited, quite exuberant (her mood is bright yellow, like a canary) as she walks over to Dad.
She says we have new renters, in the house next to ours that we rent out every year. They’re staying for the remaining 7 weeks of summer. I ask how many people, looking up and putting the guitar down.
“Oh, there’s one boy your age,” she says. “Then-” the rest is tuned out.
“Ok,” I say, and then go inside, padding across the sand-filled carpet in my bare feet, down the hall to my bedroom.
I get dressed, consider brushing my hair. But that takes time, and I’d rather be down at the beach.
I half-run to the door, down the weathered stairs used to get up to our house. Since we’re so close to the water, about yelling distance from the beach, our house is on stilts as a safety measure. I’m under the house, in the sandy thing you could call a driveway, where we keep our boards and the outdoor shower.
I grab a faded green towel from the drying line and head down the path to the beach, yelling up at my parents, above me on the deck, that I’m doing so. The sand stings my feet as I turn around.
As I turn, I see him. One of the new renters, the one my age. This idiot thought it was a good idea to set up his telescope in the sand below the house, and then try to carry it up the stairs. I ask if he wants any help.
“Oh,” he mumbles as he looks up. He has blue-green eyes and messy hair and he’s tall, taller than me, but not by a lot. He looks drowsy, like maybe he just woke up. He’s barefoot, too, and he almost impales his foot when he sets the telescope down. But he doesn’t; instead he says, yes, sure, that’d actually really help.
I run over and we disassemble the telescope, taking the lens off and closing the stand. Then it’s easy work, carrying it up the wooden stairs, through the house and onto the balcony. After we set it up again, with minimal speaking, he glances over.
“Um, by the way, I’m Fitz,” he says awkwardly. I respond; say, I’m Milo. Asking if he’s interested in space, I gesture vaguely at the telescope.
Fitz’s eyes, which remind me of the sea, focus on the lens. “I, yeah,” he says. “I really want to learn about space, and my parents bought me this telescope so I could, I don’t know, ‘further my education,’ while I’m out here. It’s cool though, because it’s not like school-work for me, it just makes me happy.” He takes a breath, continues earnestly. “But I just find it so cool, you know? Space, the universe, constellations, everything. Like, there are so many galaxies. So many stars. There has to be other life out there. It’s the most spectacular thing. There are so many possibilities, we just have to find them.”
Fitz stops. I’m struck with an ephemeral sense of amazement at him, a fleeting sense the color of the sun reflected on the sea. It’s clear he feels everything more. He’s drenched with it. When he speaks, the stars fall.
“You’re funky, Milo,” Fitz declares. We’re down at the beach, a week later, our hair wet and the spaces between our toes filled with sand. The sun is out, really bright.
He’s wearing round sunglasses with reflective lenses and playing with a rope bracelet on his wrist when he continues. “Funky in a good way. Almost groovy.”
When I glance over, I can see the waves in his glasses. I think jubilance isn’t how people usually describe it, an instant feeling all over your body. It’s more like little ripples, these tiny light-blue waves crashing and spreading.
“Thanks, Fitz,” I say. “Funky in a good way is my life goal.” He smiles.
We run up to my house, almost falling in the sand numerous times. It’s lunchtime. We get up to the kitchen, and Fitz grabs a grapefruit and bites into it, like an apple. He spits the pink-orange peel into the sink and starts peeling it.
“Guitar is probably the best instrument,” he muses. His hair is wet and when he runs his hand through it, it sticks up. “I’d like to play guitar. There’s so much you can do with it, and once you learn it, you can play other string instruments too. Like ukulele! My favorite song, probably ever, has this cool ukulele part. House of Gold, by Twenty One Pilots. Have you heard it?”
He did it again. God, when he talks like this, my mood turns this great coral color with a flash of yellow.
I shake my head. “No, but I play guitar.” Immediately, his eyes light up, even more so than a few minutes ago. I run to go get my guitar.
When I come back Fitz grins, really big, his excitement palpable. He makes me smile too. I sit on the countertop, pulling the strap around my neck.
I start with the D# major chord before remembering to tune, but everything is a go, so I start again. Singing, this time.
Do you want to go to the seaside?/ I'm not trying to say that everybody wants to go/ I fell in love at the seaside/ I handled my charm with time and slight of hand.
I take a breath, sing the second verse.
I look down, focus on the fingerings. There are things I would’ve seen if I didn’t: Fitz smiling, really happy, his mood almost the exact same color as mine a few moments earlier. Coral red-orange with pink and flecks of yellow.
But I'm just trying to love you/ In any kind of way/ But I find it hard to love you girl/ When you're far away/ Away.
I finish with the last verse, but the end is changed: But I fell in love on the seaside/ On the seaside/ In the seaside.
Time spent with him is great, it really is. But there the idea that he, eventually, will leave is always in the back of my mind.
I’m sitting at the table with my parents, eating dinner a few days later. They’re talking about the new renters. Mom asks if I’ve been hanging out with the boy.
I nod. “Fitz and Milo,” Dad says, and I laugh to myself: if only they knew.
They notice that, but there are things they don’t: my mood, which changes into this brilliant red with flecks of orange and gold. They don’t notice big smiles and flushed cheeks and chapped lips. They don’t notice us.
That night, Fitz invites me to look at the stars by yelling across the 10 yard difference from his deck to mine. “COMING!” I respond. I pause for a short second on the stairs, wondering if he's calling me over to say goodbye. But I go.
I sprint up the stairs to his place and we’re face to face on the deck. Spectacular, he says, in this ridiculous accent, and we both start laughing.
We’re leaning over the wooden rail and looking at the ocean. Fitz pulls out his cheap disposable camera and snaps a picture of me, and then grins when I turn around. “Come on, I had to,” he says sheepishly.
When he sends me all the pictures, later, one thing is always the same: he’s looking at the camera. I’m looking at him.
“There are these organisms in the deep sea. They can produce their own light, ok? It’s this trait called bioluminescence. And there are pictures of them; they look like the stars fell and washed up on the beach. And while it totally isn’t related to space, isn’t that cool? Like, your own light. Literally glowing. Radiant.”
Like you, I want to say, but I don’t. Instead, I mutter cosmic-freak jokingly. He laughs.
Describing Fitz, for me, would take words that aren’t typical. He’s erratic and irregular, and he seems like he’s from the stars he loves so much. Utterly stellar.
Weeks later, we’re on the beach again. The sky is overcast, so we’re the only people on it, but it’s pleasant. I’m stretched out on a towel. Fitz is sitting up, absentmindedly making sand castles and then smashing them, quickly.
When he says he’s leaving it doesn’t actually register with me, and he has to repeat himself twice more before I actually respond. And I don’t think what I say is a response. All I say is oh, once.
Silence. If my mood was a color right now, I’d be gray-blue, the color of waves right after they crash.
“I’m sorry, Milo,” he murmurs, and he sounds absolutely apologetic. Fitz is no longer in the spectacular mood that has seemed to carry him through the summer. No longer bioluminescent, no longer producing his own light.
I stammer out something, along the lines of it’s ok, that he shouldn’t be apologizing, that it isn’t his fault. I knew he would leave, and even though it’s harder to deal with in the moment, it’ll be fine. I hope.
As if he’s having the same thoughts, he hugs me. “We’re ok,” he says definitively. “I wouldn’t say spectacular, not by a long shot, but we’re alright.”
Later, About Four Months
I receive the letter around Christmas time. A paperclip attaches a picture of Central Park, covered with snow. I suppose he was thinking about the time I had mentioned I’d only seen snow twice. He, being from New York, had responded, “You’ll have to come visit sometime.” I replied saying that I would love to, but I never did.
I think this letter is when I actually accept he is gone. I’ve missed him, thought about him, so many times. But it hasn’t made him come back, and eventually I’ll realize that.
I take it out sometimes, read over his words in his messy handwriting. I’ve grown accustomed to the stars not falling, and that fact makes me sad.
How are you? Merry Christmas, and hopefully you got a ukulele like you’d talked about. I got a good camera, finally! Now I can take pictures of the stars, instead of just looking at them through my telescope.
I’ve been listening to the CD you made me a lot. My favorite song on it is Seaside. It’s great, but it’s not as good as when you played it. I miss that. I miss you.
I've actually improved, regarding my knowledge of space. I know all nine planets now! I’m kidding, but did you know there are 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe? Now I have a number for all the possibilities.
The cool thing is that the amount of stars is unknown. You have to limit it to things in the observable universe. Think about it: there are so many things you can’t see. There are so many stars.
p.s. When I developed the pictures, the stars were spectacular, but not as spectacular as you.