"You’ve always made the mistake of being yourself."
What is it about the night that brings such peace and loneliness, such exquisite pain? When the moon hangs low in the sky, and the stars glimmer from thousands of light years away, separate from each other by just as great a distance of blackened void, there’s something that just sparks that feeling of insignificance, and a need to be valued by someone. The need to feel that another inconsequential speck of carbon-based life depends on you or cares about you drives people into the arms of their loved ones until the darkened void passes and light can ease the pain of existence once again.
Or so I considered, as I stared up at the stars while my dog did his business.
I didn’t have many talents, but I was damn good at being dramatic.
“Come on, Romeo,” I urged. “Pee, already.”
My dog turned those baleful eyes on me, and I sighed. It was going to be one of those nights.
A door opened and shut somewhere in the night, and that somewhere was a lot closer than my silent prayers wished they would be. At the house next door, the motion-detecting light flicked on, and Sebastian Reynolds came wandering out, hands in the pockets of sweats slung low on his hips.
“Hey,” he called. The fence between our houses only stretched halfway down the length of the driveway, so he wandered to the end. I made no move to acknowledge him, not that he seemed to care. “I, uh, saw you out here, and thought I’d come say hi. Hope that’s not weird.”
I looked at him, resigning myself to the awkward pity-induced conversation that was bound to follow. “And if I said it was?”
“Then I’d apologize and go back inside.”
It was tempting. It’s weird, would be all I would have to say. Two words, and he’d be gone. Yet, something held me back; something deeper than my instinctual need to avoid all forms of awkward human communication. Maybe it was that dreadful void that was eating my soul and making me want companionship, or whatever poetic metaphor I had come up with a minute ago.
“So you don’t have anything better to do on a Saturday night than sit up and wait for Romeo to have to pee?” I asked, moving on with the conversation before I could regret not taking the opportunity to end it.
Sebastian gave a half shrug. “My friends are great, but they’re tiring. With all the grad parties lately, it’s kind of nice to just stay home once in a while, get some peace and quiet.”
I shifted my weight, tugged on the leash to pull Romeo away from the flower bed by the mailbox. “So, why are you out here talking to me, then? It’s your night off from socializing. Go enjoy it.”
“How do you know I’m not enjoying myself right now?” Sebastian suggested, a grin tugging at his lips. He leaned against the last slat in the fence. “Maybe I enjoy talking to you.”
In retrospect, laughing just then was probably rude and definitely self-deprecating, but I couldn’t help it. “Really?” I inquired. “Based on what experience, exactly? Five minutes last week when I was half asleep?” I shook my head, my ponytail brushing my bare shoulders. “No, we both know what’s going on here.”
Sebastian tilted his head, genuinely curious. “We do?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Pity.” When Sebastian looked unconvinced, I continued, “You think I’m some lonely-ass loser who cries herself to sleep at night under trees, and you’ve decided you’re going to bestow your friendship upon me, right?”
Sebastian’s subsequent stunned silence was all the confirmation I needed. I pulled at Romeo’s leash, turning to guide him back to the house. There was nothing else I wanted to say to Sebastian. His pity was real, his friendliness was fake. I’d gotten good at telling the difference. After all, it’s not only the real knives that can cut you.
“Wait,” Sebastian said before I had even taken two steps. “You’ve got it wrong.”
I wanted to keep walking, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it if I didn’t hear him out. It was just one of the other unfortunate things that came with being me. “Enlighten me,” I replied, turning to face him again.
“I don’t see you as someone who needs my friendship,” Sebastian told me. His eyes were earnest, and maybe sad. “I see you as someone who comes out at night and looks up at the stars while my friends are all off getting shit-faced and high. I don’t know what you’re going through right now, or what you need, but I thought that maybe I could do with a friend like you. And that’s selfish, and I’m sorry.” He shrugged. “If you don’t want to be friends, that’s fine. Just don’t flatter yourself thinking I pity you. I’ll never pity you.” Sebastian turned and walked away, tossing a light, “Goodnight,” over his shoulder.
I reached into my well of cynical, deflecting replies and, for once, came up dry. With nothing to say, I merely stared at Sebastian’s retreating back until he disappeared into his house. Perhaps I didn’t need a job this summer; figuring out Sebastian Reynolds promised to be a sea of work in itself.