Christmas passed by slowly into the New Year without a hint of snow, which was unusual to me. It would have snowed by now in Briar Creek and London seemed like the place to have white Christmases. Serena had invited me to a huge New Year’s Eve party and I still wasn’t sure how’d she’d gotten away with it. She had a way of getting invited to almost every special event in the city. I wasn’t going to go at first, but she convinced me saying that there would be a ton of people to make connections with there. I hesitantly agreed, but I was secretly pretty excited about it. I hadn’t heard much from Jovie since Christmas. I was beginning to get worried about him, but didn’t want to seem clingy or anything. It was like he’d fallen off the face of the earth for a few days- no texts, calls or anything.
I had a few moments of panic that I had to calm myself from. I had already lost someone important to me and it just reminded me of the day Harvey didn’t respond to any of my messages. This was different though. There was a weird feeling between Jovie and I when I left his apartment on Christmas. It wasn’t awkward, but rather like there was something we weren’t saying out loud. This strained sense of holding back made me uncomfortable because it wasn’t normal for us. I was usually so relaxed around Jovie, but there was something making him nervous and I couldn’t put my finger on what. Nevertheless, I allowed him to have his space to figure it out and reassured myself I’d hear from him soon. My friendship with Jovie was strong and when it came down to it, I knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
“What are you wearing?” I asked Serena over the phone, holding the silver sparkly dress she’d let me borrow up to my body and examining myself in the mirror.
“A red sequin dress. Don’t worry, Maeve, you won’t be overdressed,” she commented, reading my mind.
“I’m not used to sparkles!”
“Well, get used to it! It’s New Years Eve. Everything’s sparkly,” she laughed.
“Okay, okay, I’ll try it!”
“Do I hear a thank you, Serena?” she joked. I could almost sense her applying her signature bright apple red lipstick from across the line.
"Thank you, Serena,” I said in a mocking tone, laughing with her. “I’ll meet you there in thirty minutes. I just need to put this dress on.”
“See you there, babe!”
The line clicked and it was just me and the unreasonably shiny dress in my hands. I dreaded stepping out in the freezing cold in just this little dress so I looked around my room, grabbing a black turtleneck to throw underneath. The digital clock by the bed lit up the numbers 8:00 in red. Most people probably hadn’t even left their apartments yet, but I liked to be punctual so I pulled on a black coat before heading out the door, flipping off the lights behind me.
I arrived to the party at half past eight and there were already more people than I’d expected. It was at this huge penthouse right in the heart of the city that had to be worth at least two million dollars. There was a huge disco ball hanging from the ceiling, servers with trays of champagne glasses and an ice sculpture at the center of the room. All of a sudden, I felt out of place and felt like running.
“You made it,” Serena’s silvery accent sounded from behind me. I spun around on my heel to greet her, taking in her outfit she’d so carefully put together.
“You look like a ruby, my friend,” I grinned.
“Why thank you, my gem,” she laughed, taking my hand. “I’ve got some people to introduce you to.”
And instantaneously, I was being tugged through the crowd. Everyone was calmly mingling and it was clear alcohol had not been served for very long as people still held their composure, making elegant conversation. Serena and I spoke to a few different people- other authors, editors, publishers, producers, musicians, you name it. Anybody who was anybody was here. And as I got more comfortable, I talked to them like I belonged there too. After downing three glasses of champagne, I was just tipsy enough to believe I owned the place. I felt important tonight, watching people that looked like they belonged on movie screens twirl around like they were at Gatsby’s. Gold and silver flashed around the room surrounded by expensive tuxes and I felt myself getting high from Gucci cologne. I could be someone else tonight. By 11:59, Serena and I were out on the dance floor too, shouting 3, 2, 1 at the top of our lungs. Couples around us romantically dipped into their first New Years kiss, but Serena pulled me into a hug and we put our middle fingers up to the world together for no good reason. It felt like the right thing to do as we doubled over with laughter. It was funny how well Serena and I got along. I still hadn’t told her everything about my past, but somehow she still knew what to do and say and I loved her for it.
I began to feel very sober and my eyes got heavy around 2 AM, but I could tell Serena was still having a good time so I didn’t want to make her leave and I didn’t want to walk home by myself. I pulled my phone out of my purse, fingers hovering over Jovie’s name. I stepped out onto the balcony, the cool air automatically shaking my body. The ringtone seemed so loud in the silence outside.
“Hello?” Jovie answered, sounding concerned.
“Hey- are you not out?” I asked, surprised by the lack of noise on his end. He was usually out celebrating things like this.
“I’m at home. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine! I was just wondering if you would walk with me from this party. It’s a few minutes from your flat. I didn’t want to make Serena leave yet, but if you’re just at home, I can get an Uber or-”
“I’ll be there in a few,” he quickly interrupted me and I heard him shuffle some things around, probably putting his shoes on.
“Jovie, you really don’t have to.”
“I’m already on my way. You didn’t interrupt anything and I couldn’t go to sleep. I was just sitting on the couch,” he sounded excited that I’d called him which made me feel less bad.
Within the next few minutes, Jovie texted me from the lobby telling me he’d arrived so I said goodbye to Serena quickly, telling her to have fun with the rest of her night and pushed through the sweaty bodies to the door. I made my way through the hotel as the music from the party dissipated into a muffled thumping sound in the background and Jovie came into view. A huge grin spread across his face when he saw me.
“Well, hello, it’s good to see you, stranger,” I greeted, poking him in the side.
“I’ve been busy, I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“I’m only kidding, Jo,” I bit my lip and peered up at him. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a few days. “How have you been?”
“Oh, just fine. I had some things to catch up on for work since I fell behind during Christmas and all,” he shoved his hands in his pockets as we pushed through the rotating doors, stepping out on the sidewalk. “Whose party were you at?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I have absolutely no idea. Someone much richer than I,” I answered, looking back for a moment.
We walked in the quiet chill of the evening for a few beats, a cold mist falling around us as the temperature dropped.
“How tired are you?” Jovie shot me a mischievous glance.
“Not tired enough to turn down what you’re about to suggest.”
“Good answer,” he pursed his lips together and rubbed his chin before turning down a street and beckoning for me to follow.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m going to show you something spectacular.”
We walked down streets I’d never been on, but I followed him, fully trusting he wasn’t going to murder me. Eventually, we came across a few brick structures and an oddly shaped building on the other side of a busy street. Jovie went up to the building that resembled a hexagon and looked around like he was waiting to get caught for something before pulling a key out of his pocket and unlocking the door.
“Jovie, are we going to get arrested? What is this? What are we doing?”
“So many questions tonight, Maeve,” he rolled his eyes, pushing the door open.
“What is this?” I repeated, stepping inside. It was pitch black. Jovie pressed a few buttons and a dim light came on above.
“It’s an observatory. It’s pretty hidden and I’m not supposed to have a key, but hey, at least I didn’t have to pick the lock this time,” he chuckled.
The ceiling was a covered dome except for a patch of night sky in the center. Stairs in the middle of the room lead up to a huge telescope that Jovie made his way too, pressing his eye to the lens. I saw his body relax as he took in the view, eventually pulling away to call me over. I carefully climbed the steps, holding onto the railing as they were a bit shaky.
“Here,” he spun the telescope around to me and I put my eye next to the glass and gasped.
The stars were so vivid in this way. Before, they were just grains of sand in the night sky, but I could see them shining clearer. I never wanted to see them any other way than how I was seeing them tonight. Jovie leaned against the railing with his arms crossed, watching me admire the view. I moved the telescope just slightly so the moon was in the center of my scope. I could see all of the craters and shadows on her surface and for tonight, she seemed so close to us.
“You know, when I was younger, my mom and I used to always say I love you to the moon and back when she dropped me off at preschool,” I smiled to myself, still looking through the telescope. Jovie didn’t say anything at first, but cleared his throat after a little bit.
“You know, the moon’s not that far away. I reckon if you really want to make a statement, you’d tell someone you loved them to Saturn and back,” he spoke quietly, his voice echoing around the dome. I stepped back to look at him and almost swore he had tears in his eyes before he forced a smile. “But, I guess that’s just me being pretentious.”
“Why would you say Saturn?” I walked over, joining him in leaning against the railing and looking up at the stars through the hole in the ceiling.
“Well, it’s the farthest planet from Earth. It’s almost nine hundred million miles away from us in that galaxy. Loving someone to Saturn and back is a whole eighteen million miles.”
He fixed his attention on me again, his eyes sparkling like all the constellations at once. We kept each others’ gaze for a moment before Jovie looked up and began telling me more about the planets. I felt something tonight that I hadn’t felt in a long time and I didn’t quite know if I wanted to accept it yet. There was something Jovie brought out of me in our friendship- an unbound feeling of being completely and unashamedly myself and I loved him for it. I loved him to Saturn and back.
The ringtone of my phone interrupted Jovie’s lecture about the stars and I ignored it at first, but it persisted, causing me to wonder if something was wrong. I looked down at my phone, expecting it to be Serena calling me in the taxi on her way back home or Sam calling to check up on me, but it wasn’t either of them.
His face on my screen made my stomach turn over. His contact picture still the same one from a trip we’d taken years ago and he was holding my hand in the airport because he knew I got nervous. Something about the picture made me feel so at home, but at the same time, it made me feel guilty. I ran outside the observatory, my phone still lighting up with his name: