We met in that place that night. The same place we met every night under the deafening screams of sirens and the sound of gunshots echoing through the thick, smoky air.
“Where do you want to go, Aronai?” I asked him, the kid who was just barely taller than me and whose messy black hair covered huir iridescent eyes.
Zei looked at me, smiling, two small dimples appearing on either side of huir cheeks. Then looked thoughtfully at the shrouded sky. It had been ages since we last saw stars.
“All I can think of,” zei said and paused for a few seconds. “Is somewhere up there, beyond all this. Somewhere I can be with you.”
I opened my mouth to respond. I want to be with you, too.
But I looked down. Huir hand just barely covered over ugly bruises on huir wrist. There appeared to be fresh blood there, too.
Zei seemed to notice I was taken aback, because zei retracted huir wrist into the sleeve of huir ripped sweater and looked away sullenly.
“I guess I should tell you,” zei mumbled.
A pang of guilt shot through me and I also averted my eyes. “You don’t need…”
“They saw me smile at you.”
I bit my lip. “It’s all my fault.” I shook my head and then stood up from the dirt. “I should have never tried to be your friend.”
Aronai looked up at me, eyes wide. “What are you saying? That’s not…”
I wiped tears from my eyes. “I’m sorry, Aronai. I didn’t want this to happen. I want to say the same thing as you. I also want to go with you… to up there. But it’s not possible. It will never be possible.”
I turned away from him. I didn’t see the expression zei made, and if zei had said something, I didn’t hear it. By then I had run away, back to the other side of the border. Back to the people who had raised me. Back to where I knew my limits. Or at least, those that were a lie.
That was the last time I saw en.
It took years, but the war came to a close and I had gotten taller. I moved out of my country and all the way across the water to a new one. I learned the language. Adjusted to city life. I happened to land a job in a space agency where I helped build the latest technology.
You’d think I’m smart, but I’m not really sure. I spent every evening when I returned home contemplating what it was I was after. Why had I worked so hard to get here when I could have just gotten an equally fine but less grueling job? I saw a vague memory in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t quite fill in the details. I would shake my head, and then turn off the thoughts as I turned off the lights to go to bed.
One morning, a morning in January, was like any other. I went to work with my coffee and got straight to outlining depictions of robot parts.
As I sipped my coffee, I spit some of it out when my coworker bounced into my office yelling.
I squinted and looked at him as I wiped my mouth. “Uh, yes?”
“We’ve got a new promising astronomer! This guy’s the talk of the town!”
“Oh. Okay. Awesome?”
“Er, but you see, I really want to meet en. But I’m a bit too nervous to go on my own because of boss, but maybe if you go with me… And also, you know the tradition.”
“I see what you’re getting at.”
I sighed and placed down my pencil and coffee and we walked a few offices down to the lab. When we arrived, it was swarming with people. Techies, scientists, and all. I craned my neck to see beyond the crowd.
Somewhere in the middle stood a strangely familiar presence, whose wavy black hair and iridescent eyes were unmistakable.
I reeled back, my heart jolting against my chest. “W-wait. I really should get back to…”
But my co-worker grabbed my arm. “No-siree! This is a welcome party we all must do for our new fellow workers.” He pulled me into the crowd. I tried to pull my arm away a few times. I could’ve easily done it, yet for some reason, I didn’t.
When we got to the front of the crowd, I stopped short.
My eyes locked onto Aronai and my breath shortened. Only seconds later, Aronai's eyes met mine. And in that moment, it was like time slowed down. The whole crowd disappeared. The noises became muffled.
I held my breath and tears began to well in my eyes.
Aronai watched me blankly at first. I wondered if he recognized me. Those eyes had gotten cold since the last time I saw en. The war had done a number on en, for sure.
I swallowed, unsure how to react.
But then, as if the sun pierced through the smoke, zei smiled warmly.
I wanted to smile back, but instead, the tears began to stream from my eyes. As if by instinct, I stepped towards en, reaching out my hand slightly.
“I-I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I left you.” I choked on the words as tears poured out. “It was selfish; I was sc--” I covered my mouth with my hand and scrunched my shoulders together.
Zei shook huir head. “I don’t blame you. I’m sorry our situation was that way. I know it was hard, but please don’t be sorry.” Zei suddenly grinned and stepped forward. Took my hand in huirs. “I knew I’d find you here! You know how long I was looking for you?”
“Oh my god,” I whispered in our native tongue. I smiled despite the tears.
Aronai pointed up with his whole arm. “Let’s be together up there from now on!”