the observatory

“You could teach me about the stars,” Tyler says, looking out the window.

“There are no stars tonight,” I point out, following his gaze up the overcast sky.

“There are,” he says, and I look back at him. He’s looking at me. I wonder if he means what I think he means. “They’re just behind the clouds.”

“How can I explain anything about something you can’t see?” I ask, carefully choosing my words.

“You can try,” he shrugs.

I stare at him for a moment, once again trying to read his expression, trying to see beneath those golden locks. Once again, I fail. I sigh, defeated. Fine. I can make a fool out of myself for him, I guess.

“Okay,” I nod, looking out of the window again. “I think we’re looking north, which means we’re right under Cepheus…” I point a finger to where I think the constellation should be and his eyes follow. I smile. And keep talking.

When I was nine years old, my dad drove me here to take me to the Royal Observatory as my birthday present. He’d booked us for all the events that day, from extremely boring and detailed seminars to hands-on experiences that were taking place in every corner. It was the first time I ever saw a star through a telescope. I’ll never forget how magical it was to put ‘faces’ to the stars’ names I already knew so well. We left with Space Explorer badges, even more obsessed with the night sky than when we arrived. Before even getting home, we already had made plans to go camping in one of the famous night sky parks in Scotland. That never happened.

I never knew why he liked or had so much knowledge about space. He only had time to get me hooked into his passion–and then he left. Everything he taught me about those tiny flickering dots suddenly became obsolete. There was no one else in my life that knew that much about the sky. There was no one else that cared that much. With time, I moved it all to the bottom drawers of my mind, the ones we never open and rarely remember exist. I stopped talking about stars, and planets, and constellations. I forgot their names. That is, until now.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s like riding a bike. As soon as I started talking about it–and Tyler started listening–, it started to come back. It felt like reading a book backward, starting from the most recent pages and working my way to the ones I have read so long ago. From the top drawers all the way to the bottom ones. All the way to my ninth birthday present. All the way back to Edinburgh.

“We should go there,” he suggests, his eyes lighting up.

“I don’t think we can,” I say. “Visits have to be pre-booked, and most events take place at night.”

“Oh,” he deflates. “Maybe next time, then.”

“Sure,” I snort, but my stomach backflips inside me.

“What about the night park thing?” he asks.

“What about it?”

“Do you still want to go?”

“I don’t know,” I shrug. “I haven’t thought about it in ages…”

“Good morning, night owls,” Neil enters the kitchen area, observing us with sleepy and suspicious eyes.

“Is it already morning?” I take my phone to check the time.

“Not quite, but we have an early start today,” he says as he gathers the things to make coffee. “Not you, actually, you should be asleep.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” I say.

“I see,” he turns to me, and then to Tyler. “What are you doing?”

“Talking,” Tyler answers. “About camping under the stars.”

“Really?” Neil raises his eyebrows. “Why?”

“It sounds fun,” Tyler shrugs.

“Fun?” Neil’s tone rises a notch.

“I was telling him about the dark sky parks in Scotland,” I interrupt before he makes assumptions.

“Right,” he frowns, but thankfully changes the subject slightly. “I went camping on one of those once, in high school.”

“How was it?” I ask.

“Well… an experience. It was the first time I smoked pot,” he says, and we laugh. “Are you planning on going?”

“Maybe,” Tyler shrugs again, looking at me.

“I don’t recommend the pot part,” Neil jokes, making us laugh again.

He then proceeds to serve us coffee and stirs the conversation into a business direction. I stop listening. My thoughts go back to the trip home from the observatory all those years ago. My dad and I making plans, listing things we would never get to do. I spent so many nights lying in the garden pretending we were there.

I never thought of going without him, but now… It sucks how our brain picks up on the smallest details. I can’t help but imagine what it would be like lying with Tyler under the stars, sharing all that I know about them, making him love my passion like my dad made me love his. Apparently, my mind likes making up situations that will never happen.

***

“Why not?” I ask irritated.

“Because it’s a dumbass name!” Pete says exasperated and I feign a gasp.

“I like it,” Tristan contributes from the other side of the dressing room.

“See?” I point to him, raising my eyebrows.

“He’s not our target audience!” Pete argues.

“Okay, then, I’m going to make a Twitter poll,” I say, pulling out my phone.

“With what? You only have one option!” Pete says.

“Why don’t you give us an option?” I say and he goes silent. “I’d love to hear your ideas.”

“You can’t go with that one,” Tyler says after a few moments of silence. “It’s hard to announce a long silence in awards shows and such.”

Lindsey and I laugh, for Pete’s annoyance.

“Do you think ‘unnamed duo’ is a cool name for a punk band?” I read aloud as I type the tweet. “Asking for a friend.”

“No!” Pete shouts as he picks up his phone and votes in the poll.

“You’re not supposed to vote!” I throw a cushion at him. “We’re supposed to be objective.”

“Like you are?” He throws the cushion back.

“No,” Tyler says, grinning as he turns his phone screen to me.

“Traitor!” I throw the cushion at him.

“Yes,” Tristan votes, too.

“Yes,” Lindsey says, making Pete glare. “I’m being objective.”

“Right,” he barks.

“No,” Neil joins in the joke, and I fake-gasp again.

“I didn’t expect it from you,” I say in my best offended voice.

“Someone has to give you the hard truths,” he answers.

“Thank you!” It’s Pete’s turn to point and raise his eyebrows. And I can’t say anything to dismiss Neil’s opinion, since I tried to hire him just a couple of hours ago.

After our little secret meeting, we decided to try to come up with a name before we receive any more offers. Mainly to distract us from thinking of any offers, since it started to eat us up inside instantly. As usual, the discussion is going nowhere, but it’s nice to actually have a reason to discuss it. I haven’t been this hopeful in a while, and even though there’s still a part of me shouting to be careful, the winning part at the moment is the one praying our fans like my name suggestion.

“So, I was looking up the Royal Observatory,” Tyler interrupts the noise, talking to no one in particular, “and it seems like it’s on top of a hill?”

“Oh, yeah!” Lindsey confirms. “It’s a massive building on top of this hill, you can see the whole city from there.”

“And even if we can’t enter, we can still climb the hill to enjoy the view?” he continues, directing the question to her.

“Yes,” Lindsey frowns. “Are you thinking of going?”

“I don’t know,” he goes back to his phone.

“I think you’d like it,” Lindsey says, giving me a quick glance. “If you liked the castle, you’ll love the observatory.”

“What castle?” Tristan frowns, staring at his brother.

“In Alnwick,” he answers casually.

“Oh, you went?” he turns to me now, with that annoying knowing look. “How was it?”

“Pretty amazing. Here,” Tyler gives him his phone, apparently showing the pictures he’s taken.

“Is this a lake?” Tristan asks. “Looks like molten silver.”

“Right? You should have seen it in person, it didn’t even seem real,” Tyler says excitedly, making my insides turn to jelly. “Look at these hills!”

“What a beautiful place,” Tristan comments as he slides through the photos.

“And this is the observatory, apparently,” Tyler takes the phone back and shows Tristan different photos.

“Looks pretty nice,” Tristan says.

“Wanna go?” Tyler asks, earning a surprised look from his little brother.

“Me? Now?” he gasps.

“Do you think we can make it back in time for the show?” Tyler asks Lindsey.

“Absolutely,” she smiles broadly.

“What do you say?” he looks at me now. I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure I want to go back there. I’m not sure I want to go back there with him and his brother. “Linds?”

“I’m in!” she doesn’t even think. “Come on, it will be fun!” She raises her eyebrows at me.

“I’ve never been there,” Neil says and receives an invitation, too.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Todd, the boring voice of reason, decides to manifest himself for the first time in hours.

“Join us,” Tyler says, making him roll his eyes. “Come on, then you can make sure we won’t be late.”

“Yeah, every five minutes,” Tristan adds, and they laugh.

“Let me see how far it is,” Todd picks up his phone, starting to check the route.

Tyler then turns to me, with a ‘so?’ look on his face. It’s already a party, and I’ll look like the party-pooper if I say no. Not that I care, I don’t. But I’m not usually the party-pooper, I’m usually the life of the party. And I’m the one who started this party, in the first place.

“Fine,” I say begrudgingly. He smiles, anyway.

“Do we have a game plan yet?” he asks Todd.

“What do you think?” the smug brother answers.

***

It’s a perfect chilly-yet-sunny day outside. We cram into one single van and get to the observatory faster than I expected. For all his control-freak habits, Todd actually knows a thing or two about logistics.

As we climb out of the car, I look up to the massive building in front of us. I hug myself, preparing to feel the wave of old memories drown me, but it doesn’t come. I still feel a twinge of nostalgia for what the place represents in my memories, but that’s all. There’s no wave. There’s no drowning. Just a faint sting, like an old splinter stuck in your finger that you never managed to take out and now and then reminds you of its presence.

“How do you feel?” Pete and Tyler ask at the same time, standing on either side of me.

“Fine,” I frown, glancing at them both. They glance at each other. And then back at me. “For now.”

“Come on guys, we don’t have much time,” Todd hastens us.

As I suspected, we can’t get in the observatory, but we can still walk around the terrain and take photos. I try to serve as a tour guide, telling them everything I remember about the buildings and monuments. Everything my dad told me when we were here. But, apparently, Wikipedia does a better job on Tyler’s phone.

“Look, we can climb something called ‘Nelson’s monument’,” he informs excitedly.

“Yeah, but it has 143 steps,” I complain, remembering very well how hard it was to climb them the last time.

“Spoken like a true sloth,” he says, smiling under my glare. “There’s also a museum,” he continues reading off his phone. “This place is pretty cool.”

“You have a very weird definition of cool,” I tease, but he has a comeback at the tip of his tongue.

“Indeed. I once said you were cool,” he grins and runs off ahead before I can respond.

“Is he actually interested in history?” Pete asks out loud.

“He is,” Tristan answers. “He likes going to museums and stuff, but he usually goes by himself.”

“Because the rest of you are not interested,” Pete concludes.

“Because he never invites anyone,” Tristan says and Pete glances at me. I pretend I don’t see it and keep walking.

We reach the monument and after a quick look around the museum, everyone decides they want to climb the cursed 143 steps to the top. I try to get myself out of it, but they refuse to leave me behind. Tristan literally drags me up the first steps, and then has to literally push me up the last ones.

We’re all breathless and sweaty, but, in the end, it’s worth it. The view is even more breathtaking than the stairs. I didn’t remember it.

I walk around the circular terrace until I find the spot. I still have a picture of it–me, stretching my arms wide, as if ready to fly. My dad and I didn’t take pictures together that day, unfortunately. In the pre-smartphone era, someone had to be looking through the camera to make sure the photo was taken. On the occasion, the someone was him, making sure I didn’t look as frightened as I was for being so far from the ground.

I stand as close to the edge as I can manage. I look up, at the horizon, where the clean blue of the sky touches the burnt green of the hills. I let my arms down as the wind messes with my hair and the sun warms my face. I close my eyes for a moment, and I can feel him. I can feel his big hand holding mine, telling me to be careful, but encouraging me to take one more step forward. He wouldn’t let me fall. I trusted him.

I open my eyes again, letting a few silent tears roll down. What has it been, two full days without crying? That might be my record. I wipe my face with the sleeves of my shirt, and as I turn my head, I catch Tyler facing me at some distance, his phone pointed in my direction. He doesn’t look up from the screen, but puts his phone down after a few seconds. Was he taking pictures of me?

He walks slowly toward me, never taking his eyes off my face, even if the wind makes his hair whip around like hay.

“So?” he asks when he’s close enough. “How are you feeling now?”

“Not so bad,” I say, and he nods. “Did you see me cry?”

“Just because you wiped your face with your sleeves,” he says, and now I nod. “You cry a lot,” he remarks, making me chuckle.

“I can’t help it,” I shrug. “It’s just…”

“Too much,” he completes for me. I look back at him to find that familiar intriguing expression on his face–brows furrowed, lips pursed, head cocked to the side. I wonder what he thinks about when he looks like that.

“Do you ever cry?” I ask, and his eyebrows shoot up. Another expression I’m getting familiar with.

“Of course,” he smiles a little.

“When?”

“When no one’s watching.”