The common room smelled of smoke and sweat and spilled beer. I was glad when Denna asked if I wanted to take a walk. Outside was the warm quiet of a windless spring night. We talked as we wended our slow way through the wild bit of forest beside the inn. After a while we came to a wide clearing circling a pond.
On the edge of the water were a pair of waystones, their surfaces silver against the black of the sky; the black of the water. One stood upright, a finger pointing into the sky. The other lay flat, extending into the water like a short stone pier.
No breath of wind disturbed the surface of the water. So as we climbed out onto the fallen stone the stars reflected themselves in double fashion; as above, so below. It was as if we were sitting amid a sea of stars.
We spoke for hours, late into the night. Neither of us mentioned our pasts. I sensed that there were things she would rather not talk about, and by the way she avoided questioning me, I think she guessed the same. We spoke of ourselves instead, of fond imaginings and impossible things. I pointed to the skies and told her the names of stars and constellations. She told me stories about them I had never heard before.
My eyes were always returning to Denna. She sat beside me, arms hugging her knees. Her skin was more luminous than the moon, her eyes wider than the sky, deeper than the water, darker than the night.
It slowly began to dawn on me that I had been staring at her wordlessly for an impossible amount of time. Lost in my thoughts, lost in the sight of her. But her face didn’t look offended or amused. It almost looked as if she were studying the lines of my face, almost as if she were waiting.
I wanted to take her hand. I wanted to brush her cheek with my fingertips. I wanted to tell her that she was the first beautiful thing I had seen in three years. That the sight of her yawning to the back of her hand was enough to drive the breath from me. How I sometimes lost the sense of her words in the sweet fluting of her voice. I wanted to say that if she were with me then somehow nothing could ever be wrong for me again.
In that breathless second I almost asked her. I felt the question boiling up from my chest. I remember drawing a breath, then hesitating – what could I say? Come away with me? Stay with me? Come to the University? No. Sudden certainty tightened in my chest like a cold fist. What could I ask her? What could I offer? Nothing. Anything I said would sound foolish, a child’s fantasy.
I closed my mouth and looked across the water. Inches away, Denna did the same. I could feel the heat of her. She smelled like road dust, and honey, and the smell the air holds seconds before a heavy summer rain.
Neither of us spoke. I closed my eyes. The closeness of her was the sweetest, sharpest thing my life had ever known.