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Stars And Sycamore Trees.....

It had not taken him long to realize how simple
her request had been: one meeting just once a week to
see how the stars had moved.

He crumpled the folded paper between his roughened hands,
hanging his head as he pressed it in his palms. In a sort
of anxious panic, he stretched it out and tried flattening
it against his knee, leaving behind deep wrinkles in the
tan paper. Running his fingers rhythmically along the creased
thirds of the letter, his eyes streamed along the ground
before him.

The park had not really changed much since he had left. The same
twisted tree climbed behind him with a rutted face in the trunk,
and the arms stretched out over his head, the ones out of
vision having been burnt away with lightning. All the old
benches still sat leaning in the uneven ground, but they
were more splintered from snow than they were a few years
before. The autumn leaves even seemed to tan and fall in
the same rhythm as they had that last fall when he had sat
beneath this tree. All that was different was the ground directly
before him.

An odd emptiness filled him as he allowed himself to focus on that spot. He
knew well that the ground was still uneven, that the sycamore tree was still
leaning out toward him with the same eerie sense year around beyond that
bench. His thumb unconsciously traced the letter while he let that image
reform in his memory. A long, cylindrical shape embedded his thoughts…
charcoal-black with a shining steel base; the telescope had been the
centerpiece of their weekly visits. Without seeing the simple piece of
science accompanied with a small, charming girl…everything felt tilted.

He allowed her to flow back into memory, starting with her hypnotic
eyes and engaging smile, soon followed by her contagious laugh and
constant hand gestures. He immediately remembered how she would
look up at the sky for minutes at a time without a word, twiddling a
close-by leaf that had fallen between her thumb and index finger,
making a small, air-catching sound.

Pursing his lips, he unfolded the paper in his hands, seeing the faded
handwriting in paling-purple ink. Her handwriting somehow brought a part
of her back to him that had been lost. He had learned long ago he could
recall her voice if he searched his hearing long enough, could even
remember that sparkling laugh ringing in his ears if he searched that
internal echo carefully. Clenching his eyes shut, he also remembered
what else he had learned.

Despite all he could remember….nothing for certain could bring her back.

He had originally believed the independent research class would be an
easy course, one he would not have to do any work for. Entering with a
light heart, he had imagined breezing his way through, teaming up with
the intelligent students and taking their answers. The first few projects
and assignments were easy: pick a partner, use the assigned topic,
and turn in the finished project the following class. Simple.

He entered the next day with the work his partner had done and handed
it to the teacher with his usual nonchalant ease. Sliding down in his desk
seat, he thought about what he would do after school that day….head over
to the beach and walk along the shore for a while, get away from the city
buzz and school teachers. Her could hear his adviser’s highly pitched
voice somewhere inside his head. She was saying something about
how the next project was not going to be as laid back as the previous
few; he was not worried.

“Jeremy, am I interrupting you?”

Tuning into his adviser’s words, Jeremy glanced up from his desk,
seeing her piercing stare focused on his eyes, and he imagined his
pupils boiling. He shook his head, and his gaze shrunk away from hers,
seeping into his knees. Jeremy had never been a forward kid nor a bad
student, he’d just planned to have an easy class this year.

“All right,” she said curtly, “today we are leading into a
more developed study. I will not be giving you prompts
to work off of this time, but I will be choosing your
partners and I will know who is doing their work.”
Just as Jeremy had expected, her gaze again drifted
over to him.

For the remainder of the class, students were broken
off into couples. Those who Jeremy always worked with
were teamed off first…of coarse. Hoping he would not be
in a group where he would have to do all the work he
held his breath. Couples continued to be teamed and
his options were dwindling.

The adviser stopped listing names, and Jeremy
worried that he was working alone. He glanced around
and noticed an elbow out of the corner of his eye. He
turned and looked at a girl sitting behind him
leaning far out to the side of her desk. She was
always too quiet to be noticed even when he came
in after her. Smiling in dread, he listened restlessly
to the list of what needed to be done.

The project would last for two months, which they would be doing outside
of school while doing computerized research of other prompts in class.
It was the students’ responsibility to meet with their partners and come
up with a topic, as well as think of a way to team up outside of class.
He inhaled sharply, unsure of what he could do as a subject.

Shaking his head and glancing at the clock, Jeremy was glad to be leaving
class in another five minutes. A buzz shivered through the room as students
spoke with their teammates in excited whispers about their future projects.
Turning around in his seat, Jeremy quietly said he did not know what he
could do for a project.

“Nice to meet you too, Jeremy,” she said. " I’m Cadence."

To his surprise she giggled, and he quickly apologized.

Her voice was timid, “It’s all right, I’m not very good at conversing either.”
Her eyes moved around the room for a moment, and a nervous laugh
slipped through her lips. " I do have an idea for a project though. Meet
me at Sycamore Park on Friday night."

“As in tomorrow Friday??”

“Yeah, how about eight o’clock?”

He swallowed, trying to remember what he could be doing at that hour
instead of doing a project. “Alright, eight it is.”

Jeremy could not remember the last time he had gone to the park.
It had been smaller, with fewer trees and flowers planted, surrounded
by a broken, rusted fence. Now, trees had grown into fuller trunks with
bountiful, multicoloured leaves. Flowers coated the grasses in pinks
and reds, and a sparkling silver fence wrapped around a growing park.
Jeremy could not help but smile at the beauty of all that had changed.
He heard a thinned voice ahead of him, and he could see Cadence
sitting on a bench beneath a sycamore tree, holding a thick binder
and several notebooks. Walking over slowly, Jeremy sat down next to
her, careful not to be too close. Curiosity held his eyes to the
notebooks, and she held them tighter in her arms.

“Do you know anything about astronomy?”

Confusion flooded Jeremy, and he shook his head, staring down at
his feet. Cadence briefly explained that she had taken an astronomy
class the previous year and wanted to continue her study of constellation
and planet movement. She understood that she would have to explain
procedures to him, but she felt that it would be highly beneficial to the
both of them. Jeremy quickly nodded his head, ready to accept any
ideas that came his way. He received a sparkling smile that would
enchant him for years. A soft and friendly voice followed with:

“Then I’ll see you Friday at eight.”

The time finally came for Jeremy to head over to the park. The day had
gone by slowly, moving in a quieted hush that only one sleeping could
ignore. Jeremy had rushed through the homework of his other classes,
hardly registering the answers he wrote, and focused heavily on the
clock, waiting for the minutes to pass into 7:30 when he would start
walking down broken sidewalks leading to the park.

Jeremy watched his old sneakers scuff against the cracked pavement,
and heard small twigs crack beneath his heels and small stones
shuffle off the curb against the force of his toes. He occasionally
glanced at the grass, seeing deep green blades with hints of brown
in the coming fall. A smile hinted Jeremy’s face against the colours
of autumn.

Slowly opening the park gate, the park surrounded him with all the
beauty he had witnessed the week before, and only now did he take in all
that his surprise had blocked from him hours upon hours ago. Jeremy
walked hurriedly over a slight hill that took him to the meeting place, where
he was greeted with the sycamore tree, the bench, and a new addition.

Cadence sat beneath a tall, deep gray-black telescope, her fingers
moving familiarly with the dial, adjusting the angle of the cylindrical tube
to the ground and raising its gaze higher in the sky. Jeremy sat down on
the bench waiting, picked up some corners of her binder pages and
flicked them, catching numbers and single-syllable words as each
page hurriedly flipped by. Cadence turned toward him with a mischievous
smile, as though catching her little brother reaching for the far away
cookie jar in the kitchen. Jeremy drew his one hand away and clasped
both between his legs as though to show he knew not to get into her
things. She seemed satisfied and sat back on the bench.

Cadence slid across the bench toward him. Opening the binder she’d
had with her the day before, she revealed a thick realm of notes on
constellations and their history, as well as names of stars and their
possible magnitudes. She ran through a brief description of what
little he needed to know and explained to him that one notebook
would be his, the others hers; to take journal entries on their
findings and reactions.

Jeremy watched as Cadence slowly moved again from the bench to
the ground, sitting down on her knees and pulling the end of her green
shirt farther down around her thin waist as she moved. Her white flip-
flops slipped off her toes, and her feet just barely peaked from
beneath the frayed ends of her faded jeans. She tilted her head back
and looked up at the darkening sky, watching the pale blue deepen
into navy seas. Jeremy studied her calm face, noticing a warm gentleness
about her that was different from most, like a steady candle that never
quite diminishes when all that’s left is blackness.

That was three years ago, right after Jeremy had turned eighteen. He
remembered how their meetings continued, discussing their reaction
to the steady movement of the stars each night and their growing
knowledge of the constellation’s supposed history. He had not
realized how wonderful astronomy would grow to be for him, but
each week he continued to go back to the park, immediately greeted
with the sight of Cadence adjusting the dials on her telescope as he sat
down on the bench and waited for the sky to finish darkening.

He remembered they had gotten an “A” on their project together, but
continued their ritual of returning to that same bench every Friday up
until a year ago. He looked down at the now empty space before him and
tried to remember what the brand name had been; somehow such small
details were of great importance now. Wind breezed through the quieted
sycamore behind him, and he felt it slip through his hair and past his
ears, and he remembered how Cadence would laugh when heavier
gusts would push her thick, dark blonde hair into her face.

His fingers traced over the frayed notebook that sat on the bench next
to him. He had never told her, but he had written down things about her
amongst his reactions to the stars, such as what she had said on their
first anniversary of being there…or a simple note on how her fingers
moved against the dial. A smile traced his face at the thought of her laughter,
the sight of her thin frame shaking and bent over in happy convulsions
amongst the leaves. He remembered her eyes glimmering in those
moments, just barely squinted at the corners and her mouth wide
in open and honest laughter.

The letter made a crumbling noise as he gripped it in his fingers, and he
stared at it again, focusing on her handwriting. He had always been
amazed at such a perfect hand, even after it had begun to slightly diminish.
His eyes clenched again upon the thought of twisted metal, the shrieking
of tires on roughened pavement. Her letter had been written to him
two weeks before, as a prior reminder to their third year anniversary
at the bench. They had both been driving for a little over two years by
then, and Cadence knew well how to maneuver on a wet and busy road.

Yet somehow in the rain another car had overtaken her own, interlocking
the engines and scraping the rubber surfaces from the tire rims. The
other driver had left with a broken ankle, Cadence with a mild concussion
that somehow drifted into a fading coma. It had not taken Jeremy long
to find out; their friendship had drifted through the town over the previous
years. He’d wait by her bed in an odd hope that she would wake up
while he was in the room with her, that he had the power to convince
her to wake up.

A faint smile played over his lips as he reread the letter.

Today was their third anniversary. She would be there soon!……

Stars And Sycamore Trees.....

Trish Cooper

Bloomington, United States

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