By Jennifer Leigh Kiefer

I wasn’t drunk.  That’s the truth.  I never am though, so I knew you wouldn’t realize I was faking.  The half a bottle I had slowly sipped was just an excuse.  Something I could blame – we both could blame.  

As I wandered away from the group huddled on the large porch, down the grassy hill, through the ditch that was overpopulated with weeds and wildflowers and out into the road where we could see the stars, I half hoped you’d follow, even though you were the one I needed to get away from.  

Maybe it was stupid, but I really could see the stars better from the dark and mostly quiet backroad.  A gentle breeze gave me goosebumps despite the warm night and reminded me I was still very much alive.  Away from the others, I could hear the sounds of the forest better too.  I wasn’t the only living thing hiding in the dark tonight.  I wandered further, embracing the cliche and searching the stars for what I never seemed to be able to find here on Earth.  I wasn’t drunk, but that would have been less embarrassing than my depressing existentialism that only seems to appear when I’m supposed to be having fun.

I heard the engine and saw the sweep of headlights long before you did.  I was already in the weeds on the side of the road when you got worried and started trying to call me back from the edge of the group.  You didn’t follow though, just like I knew you wouldn’t.  The car whipped past, perhaps taking my sanity with it.

I’m not sure where I missed the signs.  I thought you had been flirting with me all summer but once again I had been wrong.  And once again, everyone knew but me.  Even you, you weren’t surprised by their teasing.  You just laughed along with them and somehow if felt like you were laughing at me.  

I couldn’t help wondering… Was I just the backup?  Did you ever like me?  Or was it all in my head?  Another dream I somehow invented?

I didn’t realize how much further I had walked until the group laughed and it sounded almost distant.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe I’m too distant, too much in my head.  I could have turned around. Squeezed into the circle next to you and been satisfied with the feel of your leg pressed against mine.  I could’ve pretended to be okay with the way you smiled at her, or even pretended you were smiling at me.  Or even that it didn’t hurt when you laid your head on my shoulder and meant nothing by it.  I could have at least been there, with you.

Above me the stars looked more beautiful than ever.  But they also looked cold and lonely.  Though the sky seemed full from the empty road, up there- out there- they are an incomprehensible distance from each of their neighbors.  I spun slowly back towards the group, giving myself the dizzy sense that the stars were moving, and found myself wondering if we aren’t like that too.  From the outside, the people drinking a mix of warm beer and too many white claws looked close as such a random group of people can be.  But what distance exists behind their eyes?  What keeps each in their own little world?  What invisible abyss exists between them?  Or am I the only one that feels as alone as the stars?

As I contemplated this distant perspective, as quietly watchful as the stars I sometimes longed to be among, I noticed you checking on me.  Worried, but for all the wrong reasons.

I laughed at the absurdity.  I laughed so I wouldn’t cry.  You smiled. Satisfied that I was okay, that you wouldn’t need to leave the orbit of the only star you are in the gravitational pull of.  

Under the cover of joyous laughter and a casual wave, and despite everything I realized on my short journey that spanned light years, I made you a promise.  Tomorrow, I’ll rejoin you.  Tomorrow, I’ll be your moon. But tonight, I need to be a star of my own, even if I’m all alone.

 I smiled back at you.  And you’ll never know I wasn’t drunk.  

Jennifer Leigh Kiefer (she/they) is a writer and stage manager based in Brooklyn, New York.  Jennifer’s work has previously been seen in the Temz review.  They are a graduate of the University of Miami.


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