The Beginnings of Joy

The coldest nights always showed the brightest stars, scattered across the arching sky like icing sugar carelessly dropped onto a slate tile. Galaxies swirled and danced above them, living creatures made of distant fire. He rarely saw them, living in the city, where light pollution blotted out all but the very brightest. He kept his eyes skyward, a half-smile permanently etched on his features. Here, the faintest lights still glimmered, dust-like, still visible behind their nearer companions. It was difficult to imagine the infinite stretches beyond those glittering crystalline lights, to imagine the lives that were lived around those stars, the other beings who, even now, might be looking up from their planets and wondering about them. And all that light, the seemed so fresh and cold and new, was aeons old before it even reached them. Many of those stars were long dead, along with whatever life had formed from them.
Xe huffed out a sigh, xyr breath fogging in the frigid air, barely visible in the dim lights that lined their path. Xe banished the gloomy philosophic thoughts. This was not the time and place for considering impossibly long-dead civilisations. Here, the air was still clear and fresh, smelling of damp and dead leaves and running water—full of life.
“This way,” xe said suddenly. Xe turned and scrambled up the hill, laughing as xyr feet slipped in the wet grass. Xe felt as though xe danced, although to the casual observer, xe had all the grace of a half-grown puppy, all long limbs and too-big feet, and the sense of always being just on the verge of falling.
“Where are we going?” he called, following more carefully, dignified as always. Xe grinned, invisible in the darkness.
“To get a better view.” Xe didn’t wait for him when xe reached xyr goal, but immediately grabbed hold of the closest bar of the climbing frame and swung xyrself up. The bars were damp and freezing, sending shocks into xyr fingers, but xe ignored the discomfort and concentrated on climbing as quickly as possible. It had been a while, and it took more effort than usual, xyr muscles protesting at such unreasonable treatment. Xe looked down as he reached the top of the hill and grinned again. It was rare that xe got to be taller than him. He examined the frame carefully, apparently not trusting xyr chosen path. He selected a rather more circuitous route to the top, climbing with the caution of one whose usual exercise involved a gym, or at the very least, a paved running circuit.
“Holy shit, these bars are freezing,” he muttered. “If I break anything falling out of this, you’re going to be the one looking after me.” Xe snorted.
“You could try not falling out of it,” xe suggested helpfully. He paused in his climb and xe knew he was sticking his tongue out at xem, even if xe couldn’t see his face. He finally reached xyr perch at the top of the climbing frame and hauled himself up next to xem, looking out over the lake that now spread out below them, the tiny lights that lined the path around its edge twinkling as they reflected off the rippling surface. They were just bright enough to show the edges of the mist rising from the water, the air already nearly cold enough to form frost where they sat. For a while, they sat without speaking, the only sound the muttering of waterfowl below, the chattering of the stream, and the hush of settling dew. The stars watched them.
“My arse is going numb,” he said eventually. “And I can’t feel my fingers. It’s bloody freezing up here.” Xe laughed and shuffled closer, taking his bare hands between xyr gloved ones and rubbing them gently.
“You poor delicate city-boy,” xe said. “A numb arse is all part of the experience.” Xe sensed him turn to look at xem, his expression intense, even in the darkness. There was a sharp intake of breath, then a sigh, then another deep breath.
“City-girl,” she said softly. “Not city-boy.” Xe scootched round to look more closely at her, but she’d dropped her eyes and was staring determinedly at the lake. Xe didn’t say anything, just wrapped xyr arms around her and laid xyr head on her shoulder. She sniffed loudly and swiped at her nose with one hand, the other sneaking around xyr waist. Another long quiet descended.
“Thanks for telling me,” xe said finally. A surprised laugh stuttered out of her mouth.
“I had a whole speech planned, you know,” she said. Xe grinned.
“You wanna give it now?” She leaned back and looked down at xem, smiling as though she would never stop.
“Why not,” she said.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing.

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