Kiera stands under a willow tree at the far end of the meadow when I break into the clearing, staring through the foliage that encapsulates her and gazing at the pond at the base of the tree. Even from where I stand, I can tell that the scene is right: the air and the trees seeming to resonate with her belonging here. It must be the willow tree, I think to myself, or it could just be her way with nature that I haven’t noticed before.
I start to make my way closer just as she catches sight of me and waves me over, listening to the rustling of the leaves and breathing in the scent of petrichor as I make my way through the light drizzle. When I near, she glances up to meet me.
“Hey,” she replies with a pleasant half smile. She examines me. “Where have you been?”
“You know, I could ask you the same…” She smiles. “Mind if I joined you here?”
“No, not at all,” she answers warmly. She shifts to make room for me to stand next to her just as she turns back to stare past the water’s edge, towards the hazel bushes that mark North. I follow her lead. A few moments pass before she speaks again.
“So, everything is going to be alright?” She doesn’t move.
“They’re not going to find us here, Kiera, you already know that; no sign of sentinels within the next mile, just like Julian’s said. Besides, even if they did follow us here, we would have heard them by now.” A moment passes.
“Yeah, I heard you.” She shakes her head and closes her eyes tight, resettling her gaze on something in the distance as she takes a deep breathe.
“What’s on your mind?” I ask.
“It’s… it’s just this place; the rain, it all reminds me of Orion,” she says, gesturing to the wilderness that surrounds us. “Don’t you think so too?” she asks with a slight chime in her voice.
“Yeah,” I say, following her gaze to look pass the quiet drizzle of the meadow laid before us. “I suppose it kind of does.”
In the distance, my eyes catch sight of a river that runs alongside the clearing of the forest, winding through the trees that leads back to camp. I can see how this place resembles the river we had by Orion. The sound of water against water and the familiar sound of water filtering through leaves fills the atmosphere.
A heartbeat passes. Two. Maybe more, but I don’t notice it before she speaks again, or that she stares at me with burning eyes.
“I’ve always loved the rain,” she murmurs over the hush of the trees. She holds out her palm skywards, catching the pellets of water that have now begun to coalesce into larger droplets. Just as quickly as the pellets land, they disappear, merging and clinging on to her long slender fingers.
“I know,” I whisper back.
She turns to face me, obviously waiting for me to say more. But I don’t turn to face her or give her the explanation she desires. A long hard second and stare passes before she fixes her eyes back at the scenery. How? She wishes to ask, but she lets it drop.
I remember our times together in Orion. She had always loved the rain even back then. I knew it, even before the words had come out. Nonetheless, it did give an odd satisfaction to have my believes finally spoken out.
She mustn’t have noticed me then, those many years back when we were still attending lectures by the round block of Ground 4. On the occasion it rained, she would often steal glances out the port window at the front of the class. No one had noticed it then, though, I suppose no one ever took notice of anything in the Sphere. Even on the off chance that I had caught her in the act, nothing had really stood out pass the casual act of nonchalant observation. It wasn’t until I started watching her more carefully that I began to notice her heave a sigh every time it rained. She found comfort in it.
She was careful and guarded then – careful not to draw attention to herself, and polite in her speech and manner. Every move she made was a weighted calculation. She spoke softly then and she speaks softly now, the words that are otherwise forbidden in the Sphere.
“Sometimes, it just seems to understand how I feel,” she continues, “It’s almost as if the rain is trying to comfort me… it’s odd really, but in a reassuring sense.”
“Almost as if it knows you,” I read her words, staring at the pendant that she now fiddles idly in her hands. In the limited light that filters through the trees, it would have been easy to misidentify the circular metallic lacing as nothing more than an intricate weave of metal and blue. But I know better. It is a Willow tree that she meddles between her fingers, a tribute to her namesake and a remnant of her past.
The pendant. It seems almost wrong for the pendant to be here – almost as if the Sphere had followed us through the forest and the river and the Field which we have crossed and escaped from. It doesn’t belong here in the meadow, but at the same time, it seems to do. She looks at me.
“Yeah, something like that. Don’t you get that feeling too?” she pauses. “The feeling that some things just seem to mysteriously understand how you feel?” Her voice is steady; sure. “The feeling that some things just seem to understand you, even if it’s impossible?”
I pause. “Yeah,” I start and then in a whisper, “Though not in the same way as it seems to ring with you.” Her eyes meet mine for what must have been an eternity because just as I looked away from her, I knew that she knew. Just as quickly as the idea had come, I had felt the warmth of her smile give way to the coolness of the rain.
“Roe, you shouldn’t think of me that way,” she starts, an edge of accusation in her voice. “We can’t,” she says, and she lets the words hang in the air with a sense of finality as she fixes her eyes back onto the trees.
“Why not?” I challenge.
“Roe, you shouldn’t. You of all people know why,” she says just as she slips on her pendant, turning to make her leave.
“Wait,” I say. She looks at me.
“What?” she answers, flatly.
You and I, We could work. It’s not too late, it’s never too late.
“You never give me a chance to,” I say instead.
“None of this is right, Roe,” she says incredulously.
“It can be if you just…”
“If I just what, Roe?” she snaps, her eyes are hard and glassy. “Let myself fall for you?” Her words are mocking at the idea, her eyes as piercing as her words.
“What is to stop all of this – for this to work,” I riposte, and I taste the words bitter. “What is to stop us from flying?”
“Roe, I’m with Eliot, you know that! I can’t love you back the same way that you do me. I can’t give to you what it is that you want, don’t you get that?”
She glares at me, her eyes searching for my reaction as her words sink in – and as they hit home.
I have always known that – that she loved Eliot in the way that she does. I don’t blame her for it, and neither do I fault Eliot for falling right back for her – because that’s how I had always wished she would have fallen for me: utterly and completely. I had known these things and yet chose to go against my better judgment. I had known these things and still allowed myself to foolishly hope. So it didn’t surprise me when I felt the ache that wrenched under my heart when she spoke the words I had already known. I had known it all too well and it had still hurt like hell all the same.
It takes me only a hard blink to then realize how lonely the silence is, too deafening and too quiet; the silence had become a distance I cannot breach and a void I cannot voyage. She lets her eyes fall to the ground, hands by her side. Even in the entirety of the ache, however, I realize that that wasn’t why I found myself speechless and hesitant. I found myself marveling at how beautiful she was even when she was angry: blindingly mesmerizing.
“I shouldn’t have come here,” she says just as she turns to take her leave. “This was a mistake.”
“But…” is all I managed to stutter, but to my surprise that is all it takes for her to turn back again to read my eyes and wait for what it is I have to say. What I saw in her eyes then was something I had not expected. I see it then, a hurt that lies behind all the composure – a regret that is for everything that has happened.
She searches my face, peering and piercing into my soul, waiting for the words that would rebel against her leaving. She wishes to stay. I see that clearly now, clearer than before. Her eyes betray her words and her posture is rueful in its entirety. She knows this, but yet she lets me see it: her pain, her desperation to want to believe in something otherwise. I feel the same longing in her eyes mirroring in mine.
I want to tell her how much I love her – confess to her of how much I love her, how much she means to me – more than the whole world. Life as I know it cannot go on without her because, without her, I would be an empty vessel, a map without a compass.
“But you still want to stay,” I say, realizing how the words are right even before she confirms them. And then, realizing how the words come out cruel.
She stares at me silently. Defiantly, but confused. I continue to see it there: the pain in her eyes as she searches and searches and searches. In that moment, all I wanted to do was to close the gap which lies between us, a valley within a valley that has become too deep to venture. In that moment, all I wanted to do is just hold her hands and look deep into her eyes – to keep myself from flying apart from her agony and to have me swallowed in them whole instead.
She’s always been so distant ever since Eliot left. She thinks about him, and I have little doubt that was exactly what she was doing when she was standing out here alone too. Kiera would never admit it, but I know it. The rain, it also reminds her of him, and she’s always loved him for the same reason that she loves the rain. So I don’t fool myself into thinking that the rain is the reason why she hasn’t left yet. It wouldn’t be the first time she left for it.
“I do want to stay,” she confesses, her words come out firm as they always are. She doesn’t look at me.
I look at the pendant she wears, I look at the rain that seems to engulf her, and then I look at her. Even until now, I am unsure what makes her that much more beautiful when she is uncertain. What I do know is this: the uncertain way she holds my gaze only makes me want to hold her face and kiss her hard then and there so much more. But I don’t move. This is her choice to make; not mine to push.
Ever since I had met Kiera in Orion, I had always known her as the quiet, gentle girl who secretly fed crumbs to the pigeons that roamed the platform of the air trains; I had grown up to love her as the kind spirit that everyone else saw: when she had helped Dawn up when everyone else stood and watched. Here now standing before me, is that same kind-spirited, confident girl I had grown to fall in love completely with, but where she stands only a foot apart, she has never seemed further to reach and impossible to touch.
So it surprised me when her eyes closed and her lips find mine first, with a quietness that ensues; sweet, soft, and sure. But also ravaging and gentle at the same time. And then I feel it, the lightning striking thunder as the flood comes rushing in and as the walls come crashing down.
The smooth of her hands run down the steep of my neck, her eyes searching mine as she leans in further and kisses me harder. If there are any doubts left in her, it is well concealed; her movements are graceful and wanting. I kiss her back every inch in with equal measure, matching her every move with the rhythm of the rain.
Her lips are like honey, more liquid than solid than I had expected them to be, and soft and yet firm at the same time. I hold her tight by the waist and pull her close as she draws her face back to study me whole, her breath tickling the contours of my collarbone.
“Roe,” is all I hear as she cups my face in fingers too cold from the rain and as she locks her arms around me. Before I have time to respond, I am silenced by her lips against mine, this time with more insistence and more wanting. This time with more giving.
In that moment, I realize that she hasn’t betrayed Eliot, or that she had betrayed me to my best friend. Above all, this was a betrayal of the entire principle of the Sphere. It is impossible, and it feels wrong. This is happening and somehow feels right. The rain beats on: the hum of contentment as the universe speeds over us.
“Kiera,” is all I managed to say before the breath is too long, and I find myself hungry for her lips and hungry for her touch. I graze my lips over her neck and kiss the base of her throat, lingering before finding my way down to her waist and coming back up again to kiss her lips again.
“I love you,” she says.
“I love you too,” I answer. The wrong words, the right words. I don’t care. We’ve spent too much time caring.
And at that moment, I think she hears it too: the Thunder roaring Lightning. And then I lean in to kiss her again, under that willow tree in our meadow.