It's New Year's Eve.
Your mother is inside, passing out snacks on glass trays and flutes of sparkling cider. Your brother is here with his family, rocking your babbling nephew in his arms; his wife is tidying up the living room, adjusting the armchairs and table runners. Various cousins and children are running about, sliding on the wooden floors in their woolen socks, shaking noisemakers, blowing whistles, and getting into mischief.
As for me, I am sitting out on the front yard, crushing frost-laden blades of grass. I'm looking at the New Year's Eve sky, staring past the sparkling fireworks and up to the glowing full moon.
* * *
I remember playing at your house too many times to count when we were children.
"Look!" you announced one time, running into the family room. You held a snorange up in your green paw.
I squinted my eyes and toddled nearer. "What is it?"
"It's the moon!" You jumped up onto the couch on nimble Ogrin legs, holding the snorange out of reach.
I puffed out my cheeks and shook my head, blonde curls brushing against my face. "No it's not! The moon is made of cheese, Derrick! Not fruit!"
You smiled brightly. "I'm gonna go to the moon one day, Silvi. In a big silver space ship!" You made whooshing sounds with your mouth, bouncing on the couch with the snorange held high above you, spinning in circles.
Your energy was contagious. I giggled and tried to pull myself up onto the couch. When I nearly fell, you helped me up.
And together we jumped and laughed and you told me all about the moon.
* * *
Apparently you had read about the moon in the library—the large one in Brightvale— when you had gone on vacation. You told me that it was 200,000 miles away, orbiting around Neopia in a predictable cycle. You told me that Grundos lived up there, in shades of orange and purple and white, and that the Space Faerie protected the moon from space invaders. You told me about the jewels in the mines, and how there were shops and a magic meteor.
I took it in with wide eyes.
But your eyes were the brightest.
* * *
In grade school, you found a way to incorporate the moon into nearly every assignment. For science, you researched the composition of its surface and atmosphere. For history, you wrote a paper on the battle of the Resistance. You painted an image of it in art, you recited Dr. Sloth's infamous Kreludan speech for theatre class, and you even started a petition in fifth grade to try to get the school to teach native Kreludan as a foreign language.
In English class, you wrote a haiku once. I still remember it:
Up there in the sky
Vast, beautiful, and foreign
I will visit you
* * *
When we went off to university, we took separate paths. You studied physics and engineering, aeronautics and biology. I studied poems.
We'd meet up for coffee in the Underground Catacombs once a month. You told me about your classes, and I nodded my head as you talked about trajectory and escape velocity and vacuums. I told you about the poems I was writing.
In our last year, we met up several more times to work on our job applications together. We sat at our usual table in The Coffee Cave, under a large oil painting of a glass of Minty Iced Tea, with our stacks of papers and black-inked pens. We scrounged through our pasts together, filling in all the detail we could.
"Hey Silvi," you asked me at one point, looking up over your Banango Bubble Tea. "I'm stumped on another one of these questions. What's my best personality trait?"
"Perseverance." I said it almost immediately.
You seemed surprised. You paused with your pen poised in the air and your head cocked to the side. "Really?"
I had to stifle a laugh with my paw. "You've been talking about Kreludor since you were three, and you've been trying to get to the moon since then. It's really a no-brainer."
"Ah." You seemed satisfied, and just a little pleased. "Thanks." You went back down to your application and wrote a few sentences before pausing again. "Gah, I hate these personal questions. Silvi, what's my worst personality trait?"
I shook my head. "You don't have one."
"I don't think the Academy of Space Explorers will like that answer."
I puffed out my cheeks. "Well, you have to come up with that one on your own. I can't help you."
"Gah," you groaned, but after a few minutes of tapping your pen on the table and sipping your tea, you wrote down an answer.
I still can't think of a single bad personality trait for you. You are kind and sincere and driven and smart.
But if I had to pick one, it'd be perseverance. Because you were going to get to the moon no matter what. Even if that meant leaving me down here.
* * *
Two years ago, on New Years, we both ran into each other at a party.
I remember you looked all dapper in a dark suit. Your hair was fighting against the gel you had put in it, and you were drinking a cup of borovan.
I waved at you and your eyes widened for a second in disbelief.
"Silvi!" you cried, coming towards me with a bright smile. "I haven't seen you in almost a year! How are you? What are you up to?"
"I'm good, I'm good," I said; I couldn't help but smile. "I still work at that publishing company right now. Editing children's books. I really love it. What about you?"
"I work for the Academy." Your grin was huge.
"Of Space Explorers? That's great!" And I truly meant it. "Are you set to go the moon yet?"
"Not yet," you said with a wave. It was the first time you had ever dismissed the topic of the moon. Instead, you set down your borovan and asked, "Do you want to dance, Silvi?"
I was surprised by the question, but nodded almost immediately.
I'm a terrible dancer, but you didn't seem to mind. We twirled around the dance floor, bouncing a bit like the toddlers we used to be. We laughed and giggled and for one night, there was no talk of the moon. There was only talk of here and now.
And it was lovely.
* * *
I saw you a lot more the following year, at dinners and parties and gatherings with friends. You showed up at my work once with a bouquet of Space Faerie flowers, and another day you took me on a tour of the Academy of Space Explorers. We passed paintings of astronauts and the Space Station and the orange moon.
We went on picnics, and played mini-golf, and ran in fields.
We hung out nearly every day, and you made me feel like the happiest yellow Xweetok in all of Neopia.
* * *
One year ago, on the Day of Giving, you seemed preoccupied as we exchanged gifts.
"Do you like it?" I asked anxiously as you unwrapped the watch I had gotten for you. The face was painted to look like the surface of Kreludor.
"I love it," you said, smiling sadly. You slipped it on your wrist, admiring it for a moment, and then looked up at me. "Silvi," you said, "I just got word at work today. They want me to go. Up there."
My heart stopped for a second, but I smiled and touched your hand. "That is amazing news. Your dream is coming true. Aren't you excited?"
"Yes and no," you said. "Yes, because it's everything I thought I wanted." You looked down at my hand on yours. "No, because I'll be leaving you."
I tried to keep my smile from wavering. "How long?"
"They don't know exactly. Over a year, at least. At most, five. It's some sort of secret business. I'll find out the day I leave, apparently." You couldn't keep my gaze.
My heart felt like a stone. "When do you leave, Derrick?" I asked, keeping my voice as controlled as I could.
"In one week. New Year's Day."
* * *
On New Year's Eve we went dancing again, outside on the frost-laden grass. There was no talk of the moon, only talk of here and now.
After our dance, we sat down to watch the fireworks. They darted through the sky in streaks of red and silver, lighting up the darkness.
"Make a wish," you said. "One for each firework."
I didn't dare wish for the thing I wanted most. So I settled on wishing you a safe journey with each streak of light.
"I'll miss you, Derrick," I said after a few minutes. I was holding back tears.
You looked down at me, and I saw you were as well. "I'll miss you too, Silvi."
And the next day, you were gone.
* * *
It's been a year.
I've been trying to keep busy, particularly at work. I'll stay late, immersing myself in literature, until nighttime settles over the office. Then I'll look out the window, up at the moon, and think of you.
I wonder what you're doing up there, and if it's as wonderful as you thought it would be. I hope it is. And even if it's a bit selfish, I hope every so often you look down at Neopia and wonder about me.
Lying out here, in the darkness and the cold, I look up at the fireworks and make my wishes on the silver, red, and gold streaks.
I wish Weewoos could carry a letter through space.
I wish your voice could funnel into my ear from 200,000 miles away.
I wish you could see these fireworks up on Kreludor and know how much I miss you.