When I lived in the city, I never got to appreciate the stars. They were always there, hidden behind skyscraper lights and fogs of cloud, but I never saw them for what they really were. Not tiny dots in the sky, but jewels. Balls of fire and gas and beauty that we, as humans, can't quite comprehend.
Then I moved to the countryside. And I met Jupiter.
“Do you like it?” a voice asks quietly—speak of the devil—and it brings me back to reality. I can just barely make out his face in the darkness of the night; amber eyes the color of honey. Hair as pale as snow, stray strands disheveled on his forehead. I resist the urge to flatten them back in place.
We sit on a blanket laid out on the very peak of a hill stained with grass and past sunshine, waiting for the sky to open fire.
Meteor showers are hard to come by, and it’s Jupiter’s last day here. I want to make it count.
“Of course,” I say truthfully. “It’s beautiful.” He smiles at this, that warm smile that makes me weak in the knees and my stomach all fluttery. I hate how Jupiter makes me feel sometimes. So vulnerable, like the smallest touch could send me shattering to the ground. And with him gone, no one would be there to piece me back together.
I shake my head, blocking the thoughts out so that they can only infiltrate the back of my mind. No point in worrying about a future that hasn't happened yet, or missing someone that's still by my side.
"Look,” Jupiter says, gently shaking my shoulder. He sounds calm, but I can see the undertone of excitement behind his eyes. “It's starting.”
I turn my attention to the darkness of the sky, and it falls.
The stars make way for streaks of light painting themselves on a charcoal canvas, and then they fall in elegant swoops behind curving mountaintops and an invisible horizon. More and more come to await their ends, a seemingly never-ending shower.
Admist all the awe, Jupiter reaches for Jupiter’s hand. I let him take it, and our fingers intertwine. His touch is cold against my palm, but soothing nonetheless.
The shower ends, finally, though it must have only lasted for a brief moment anyway.
“How was it?” I say softly, exhaling a content sigh as I rest my head on Jupiter’s shoulder. It's not too bony, or too small. Just the perfect ratio to the crook of his neck, and okay, maybe it's a little odd that I’m examining the qualities of his shoulder, of all parts, but sometimes that happens when you fall in love with someone and you know it won't last. You spend so long thinking about how they are now, so that the parts you try to remember will stay ingrained in your memory when they depart.
That's when the cold finality of the situation sinks into my head—tonight is the last time that I will ever see him again. One moment, I hold his hand. The next, he will leave only remembrance as a reminder that he was once here. Coming and going as fast as a falling star.
I swallow, forcing myself to stand up.
“So,” I begin. “Are you...are you going soon?”
“Yes,” Jupiter says. His eyes flit to the sky, then back to me. “They should be here soon.”
"Ah,” I nod, sadly aware of how pathetic I sound. “I had fun today.”
“I did as well,” Jupiter agrees. He smiles. “It's fun, being with you.”
Damn it! I can feel my face flush, and my cheeks turning into the color of boiling tomatoes. Stupid, stupid, Jupiter. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“I’ll miss you,” I finally blurt out, and as soon as the words comes out of my mouth, I internally facepalm. “Er, um, you—will you ever come visit again?”
“Perhaps,” Jupiter says thoughtfully. He looks at me curiously. “What does it feel like, to miss someone?”
I raise my eyebrows. "I mean, well, it's hard to explain, but I guess...it's kind of like you wish they were with you instead of somewhere else, and it sort of leaves you feeling empty, like they made up a part of you that's gone without them, and they're always on your mind..." I let my voice trail off. "Um. Yeah. Something like that."
"I see," Jupiter says. "Hmm. I suppose that means that I would—" A loud, whirring buzz—almost like helicopter blades spinning—cuts him off. It sounds like it's coming from above us, and when I look up, lights flash in the sky. Not stars, but something bigger. More foreboding.
The lights come closer, and in the pale reflection of the moon, I see the shadow of a ship. It's shaped like a saucer (talk about stereotypical), and maybe big enough to cover the same amount of land as a house.
It hovers above the hill that Jupiter and I stand on, and the look on his face is so melancholically beautiful that it makes me ball my hands into fists. Don't cry, don't cry, don't—shit, I'm crying, I'm crying, I'm—
"Sorry," Jupiter says softly, brushing my tears away with the tips of his fingers. "I didn't mean to make you upset."
"No, it's—it's not your fault," I say thickly, rubbing my nose with the back of my sleeve. "I just—I wish you weren't going."
"I wish I wasn't, either," he says sadly. A strange look flashed across his face, and for a moment, he seems...sheepish, almost.
"Sometimes," he hesitates. "Sometimes I wish I could cry."
"I always thought feeling emotion so strongly was a rather human trait," he explains. "And,..I suppose I've always wanted to feel human. I've wanted to be like you, Elliot."
"Though I know it's impossible," he adds quickly. "When I'm an alien to your planet. But I do dream about it sometimes. I despise that I do."
"Don't," I argue. "You're one of the most human people that I've ever met! What does it even mean to be human, anyway? A lot of people don't cry and they're as normal as everybody else. I think, if you can feel and love and communicate somehow, then—you're human."
"Love," Jupiter repeats. He looks at me intently, amber eyes glowing. "And what...what does it feel like to love?"
"God, do I have to explain everything to you?" I tease. The smile fades from my face. I sigh. "It's, like, when you care about someone so much that you'd do anything for them, even if it meant you had to sacrifice something. You couldn't imagine life without them, because, well, you love them."
Beeeep! The sudden noise makes me flinch as I realize it's coming from the ship. A signal for Jupiter to hurry, probably.
"I should go now," Jupiter says. He gives me the butterflies-in-my-stomach smile again, giving my hand one final squeeze. "Thank you for everything, Eliot. For teaching me about life, about your planet, about the stars."
"O—of course," I stammer. "It's nothing."
"And according to your definition of love," he continues, taking a step closer to me until his breath feels cooling against my skin.
"I think I love you."
Before I can even register what this, the ship casts down a ray of light, and it sweeps Jupiter up with it.
As he leaves the ground, his fingers slowly leaving mine, I search his face for what must be the last time.
A tear drops from the corner of his eye.
I must be imagining things, because it feels so impossible, really, but the ship has already disappeared as soon as I blink away my own tears, his silhouette gone with it.
The words echo in my head, over and over and over until it gets to the point where I should be tired of it, but I'm not.
I think I love you.
I look up at the view above my head, still glittering with twinkling stars, when the impossible happens yet again. A stray meteor makes its way across the horizon. I smile.
"I love you, too," I whisper, and I hope that somehow, he hears me.