Ivy stopped with one foot firmly in the clearing. He was laughing.
Sterling was kneeling on a camp pad, his telescope forgotten, laughing at her as she emerged from the woods.
“What are you doing here?” She knew she was whining, but the moment for maturity had passed.
“We’ve been had, Ivy.” Mirth was still splashed across Sterling’s face in the moonlight.
Ivy watched the Geminids streak behind him; their burning trajectory. “You’re not married, then?”
Sterling was still laughing, a gentle laughter. “No. Divorced. Lost my apartment because my ex wanted to sell the place. Ended up sleeping in Tony’s attic because home is where they have to take you in.”
Ivy didn’t understand how he could be so amused. “Why are you laughing?”
Sterling stood and took a step in her direction, then paused, as if waiting to see her reaction, “Ivy, what did you hear?”
“My mother, she knows your wife — your ex-wife’s– father. He was her agent. She heard something from Phlox about you being here, and then she wanted to make sure I wasn’t… making a mistake I’ve made before.” Ivy pushed her mittened hands into the pockets of her parka. “Tony told me about how you had a client, and wouldn’t be up here. I didn’t want to see you if…”
“If I was lying to you by omission? I get that.” He tilted his head back as four meteorites streaked overhead. “It’s a good one.”
Ivy felt a smile tease her cheek muscles. “I didn’t want to miss them. They’re Jack’s favorites.”
“Yeah. Me neither.” Sterling rolled up on the balls of his feet. “Tony told me you and Phlox were doing some sister overnight trip because you were pissed at me — that Phlox was going to convince you to go back to D.C., and it took me until I was out here on Jack’s hill, under his shower to see that Tony was doing his best to get us both up here tonight in spite of what you heard.” He looked down at his toes, then back up at the sky. “I was stupid enough to believe him, that you would actually be talked away from here because I didn’t live up to my name.”
He was still being funny. And his smile was better in the starlight. “Sterling…”
“Come look,” he said, gesturing to the telescope. “Take some pictures if you like.”
She passed him, fighting the urge to touch his arm as she did, and knelt by the telescope to adjust the focus. She felt him crouch down beside her while her body curved over the telescope. The falling Geminids filled her field of vision, and she remembered being up here as a child with her uncle.
A burning trajectory, fleeting and brilliant.
She leaned back from the telescope, her arm brushing Sterling’s; he’d dropped to his knees on the camp pad. Though he watched the sky, she felt his attention on her when he spoke.
“I’m glad I found your goats by the creek.”
Ivy laughed. “I think they found you.”
They watched in the sky in silence for a few moments before Sterling replied. “Ivy?”
She turned to him with her heart in her throat, waiting to hear what he would say.
“The Ursids are peaking next week, and I’m tied up with family stuff, but they’ll still be visible on Christmas Day. Would you like to join me if the weather’s good?
Ivy let go a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding, and reached for his hand. Her sister was leaving on Christmas morning to visit their mother. Ivy was looking forward to her quiet again. “That sounds wonderful.”
Thanks for reading a thirteenth installment. I hope you’ve enjoyed Ivy and Sterling; it’s been fun to meet new inhabitants of a somewhat familiar space. If you celebrate, I wish you a bright and merry Christmas. If your celebrations fall on other days, I wish you all the light and love in the world on those days and this one as well.