Hayley’s Comet

WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGE Triff/Shutterstock

“Hayley, what are you doing?”

I heard a voice yelling at me from behind, nearly drowned out by the rain. It was pouring; hard, driving rain that would send most people running inside. But I’d been standing there for I didn’t know how long, stock still and staring, not even feeling the rain anymore. I was soaked to the bone, my clothes drenched and clinging to me, my hair dripping and plastered to my face and neck. But as hard as the rain fell, I couldn’t seem to move.

“Hayley?” the voice asked again, nearer this time.

I felt a hand lightly touch my shoulder, and I flinched. Out of my peripheral vision, I could see my best friend, Megan, inching closer. “Sweetie, you’re soaked. Please let me take you home.”

I stared straight ahead and shook my head, still saying nothing.

Part of me was thankful for the rain. It washed away the tears that had been streaming down my face, mixing with them, and making them almost imperceptible. But as much as I cried, I couldn’t seem to make a sound, couldn’t howl, or scream or yell out into the wet dark that surrounded me, standing at the edge of the dock with blackness that stretched out before us under the blanket of night and curtains of rain that blotted out the stars.

“Talk to me, love,” she said softly. I could hear it in her voice, knew her well enough to know that she would stand there with me as long as it took.

I felt a shiver ripple through me, and it was as though it finally shook something loose.

“He asked her to marry him,” I said flatly. I blinked away the rain and tears that were clouding my eyes and continued to stare ahead into nothingness.

Nothingness. It was an apt description of what I felt. Like my heart had been ripped from my chest, leaving an empty void of nothingness in its place.

“What?” Meg said, sounding as shocked as I knew she would be. “When?”

“Tonight. Matt asked her. And she said yes.” I swallowed a fresh wave of tears. “Of course she did. What else would she say?”

********************

“Do you know the story of Cassiopeia?” I asked, hearing the hushed tone in my own voice. We were alone, lying on the dock and staring up at a night sky filled with stars. I could pick out only a few constellations tonight, but Cassiopeia was one of them.

I heard Matt shift next to me. “I really don’t know much about constellations. But it’s part of Greek mythology, right?”

I nodded and turned my head to look at him. “She was a queen who boasted that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. That angered Poseidon, god of the sea. Long story short, when everyone else was elevated to the heavens as stars, she was bound to a chair and placed in the sky upside-down because of her vanity. So, she looks like a wonky W.”

Matt turned to look at me, and the dim light of the moon outlined the curve of his jaw and the slight tip of his mouth as he fought off a smile. “A wonky W, huh? I’ll remember that.”

There was a heat in his eyes that I’d seen before when he looked at me, sending a frisson of warmth through my body. How he could spend time like this with me, this quiet and intimate time between light and dark, day and night, in the magical hours of Neverland was something I didn’t understand. Not when he wasn’t free. Not when he had her.

But I never asked. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to hold on to the illusion, as dangerous as it might have been. As much as I knew I was playing with fire. And as much as I might have been risking my heart. I was keen to the perils. But the fantasy was much too sweet.

This was one of those moments, those times that I wanted so badly for him to cross the line to my side, to reach out and touch my face, to take me in his arms and kiss me. It was right there, in his face and in his eyes. Warm brown eyes that held mine and spoke something that he never would.

And just like that, he broke the spell and turned his face back to the sky, looking once more up at the stars. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

I followed his gaze. “It is.” There was a heaviness in my soul, a sadness that came from that something that had slipped through my fingers. I could feel tears forming in my eyes as I stared up at the sky. And then I saw it: a shooting star rocket through the heavens.

“Matt?” I asked, unsure.

“I saw it, Hayley.”

“I’ve never seen one before,” I whispered, looking over at him.

Matt turned to look at me. “Really?” He smiled. “Then that one was meant for you.”

******************

I stared at the night sky and shivered. Thousands of miles away, I could still see the ame stars as home. It never ceased to amaze me that, no matter where someone was, the stars never changed. I wondered if Matt was looking at those stars right now. It had been six months since I’d seen him last.

“Why are you awake, Hayley? Bist du nicht müde?

I looked up to see Stefan, the little boy I’d known since childhood, now standing there a man. I was sitting on the roof, just outside the window I’d climbed out of. Stefan had found me there, probably knowing I would be feeling the jetlag.

“No, I’m not tired,” I replied, shaking my head and looking back up at the stars.

Stefan followed my gaze.

“The stars, they are bright here, ja?” he asked.

“They are,” I said. “Much brighter than at home.”

“Do you see that one?” Stefan asked, pointing to a bright spot that seemed to have smeared the sky.

“Yes, I see it.” I nodded.

“This is not a star. Das ist ein Komet. How you say this in English?” he asked, looking at me unsurely.

“A comet,” I replied with a smile. “Very much the same.” I paused and looked back at the sky. “So that’s a comet? Really? I’ve never seen one before.”

Wirklich? Really? Never?” Stefan’s eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Really,” I laughed. “But where I live isn’t farmland like this,” I said. “The sky looks much different from here. You can see it better.”

Stefan wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I think I wouldn’t like this,” he said, shaking his head. “The city is too bright. We can see all the stars here. This is how it should be.”

I smiled and nodded. “True,” I agreed. I studied him for a moment, still amazed at the ways he had changed and yet hadn’t in all the years since I’d seen him last.

“What is your favorite constellation? I’m not sure how to say that auf Deutsch,” I said, feeling shaky on my German.

Konstellation,” he said with a grin. “Es is das gleiche. It’s the same.”

“So?” I prompted. “Which is your favorite?”

Stefan thought a moment before replying. “Orion,” he said finally. Because he is the Jäger.” Stefan scratched his head and searched for a word. “Hunter?”

I nodded.

“He is a hunter,” he repeated. “He is strong.”

“That’s as good a reason as any,” I said with a smile.

“Mmm.” Stefan nodded, giving me an inscrutable look.

“What?” I asked, wondering if I had something on my face. I rubbed my nose self-consciously.

You are strong,” he said matter-of-factly.

I looked at him with a mixture of surprise and dubiousness. “Me?” I snorted.

“Yes,” he insisted. “You.”

“Why do you think that?”

Again, he studied me. “Because your heart was broken, and still you look at the world with an open heart.”

I felt tears sting my eyes. “What makes you say that?” I asked quietly.

“Because I see it,” Stefan said simply. “Even if you can’t.”

I looked away, hoping to stave off the tears I knew would start trickling down my face at any moment.

He reached over and caught one just as it reached my cheek. “Your love will come, Haley. You will see it, too. Just like der Komet. He is there, you must only know where to look.”

I looked back at him, smiling fondly at me, and I knew somehow that he was right. It would come—my comet.

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