“John! John! Mr Smith!”
John Smith turned to look at the woman hurrying over towards him. He’d been lost in his thoughts, as he usually was. So lost he hadn’t even realized it was dark by the time he was done fiddling around with the recipes for the classes he was going to teach tomorrow. He should have known Molly Hooper would be staying late, too, and he gave her a smile. They were both newer teachers at Coal Hill, but they’d adjusted well to the environment. “You do know the way to get my attention,” he said with a chuckle.
“Yes, well, it was either that or shout out something about your perpetual bow ties,” she said with a smile when she got to him.
“Well, bow ties are cool,” he said, reaching up and adjusting his. It was patterned with stars, a gift from a graduating pupil last year. He’d thought it would be a bit sentimental to wear the first day of classes, and he’d gotten a fair share of compliments to go with the snickers. Better than the first day of term the year prior. “On your way home?”
She shook her head. “I was going to head out to the footie pitch to do some stargazing. The caretaker said he’d let me. There’s supposed to be a meteor shower tonight and this is one of the few areas in London dark and secluded enough to get a good view. Or it will be if he keeps the lights off like he promised.” She gave him a shy smile. “If you’re not busy, do you want to join me? Stamford said he’d be on the perimeter to make sure I was undisturbed, but he’d probably feel better if I had company of the male persuasion. And, I mean...” She gestured to his bow tie.
“Oh, this?” he said. “I...well, yes, Molly. I’d love to.”
“Really?” she said, surprised. He wasn’t sure why she was, to be honest. She was a lovely woman. She was very nice, very sweet. Quite charming and very polite and...nice.
And quite lovely.
And very pretty.
He sometimes got stuck on the pretty part when he was talking to her. He was honestly surprised she never noticed.
He nodded. “Yes. I have a fascination with space, to be honest. If I was better with my maths, I’d have tried to get into astronomy and then gone to the States and gone to work for NASA, at least before they made all their cuts. Or maybe tried my hand at seeing what we had to offer here.” He gestured to the doors that lead towards the athletic fields. “After you.”
They opened the doors and stepped out into the crisp evening air. She pulled her coat a little tighter around herself and he resisted the urge to offer his own tweed coat to put around her shoulders as well. Oh, he had someone he’d fancied, a woman who was mad and brilliant and an adventuress, always wanting to go off and explore and see the world. She’d been older and younger at the same time, always so full of life, and he had seemed so very old in comparison sometimes. It had been a juxtaposition that just made them not seem to work out in the end, and he’d let her go to travel the world without him. Some days he wondered if staying put had been the wrong decision. And then there were moments like this where he thought maybe they weren’t.
They walked in near silence, staying close, and Molly looked over at him and smiled once they got to the field. She walked almost dead center and then sat down before lying down on her back. She turned to face him once he sat down and began to get settled. “I used to have a telescope when I was a girl,” she said. “I used to want to go out among the stars and explore, be like Sally Ride. She was my idol. I wanted to be just like her growing up.”
“Why didn’t you?” he said, sitting next to her with one knee bent, putting his arms around his knee and then resting his chin on top of his knee.
“I discovered I had a fear of flying,” she said with a laugh. “I thought going into space might be a bit of a bother. So I decided to get into earthly science, and I got into biology, and I thought it would be lovely to become a teacher. But I never forgot how the stars made me feel.”
John looked up at the sky and studied it. “I always wondered if I was supposed to be up there when I was young,” he said. “I always felt I belonged there instead of Earth, in a way. I felt an urge to travel, to go do great things. But I never did. I stayed here in London, went to university and then started teaching here not long after I got out.”
“You still can, though,” she said, rolling onto her side to look at him. “I mean, if you want to. You don’t have to stay here. It’s the beauty of things. You can always pick up and change your life.”
“But I’d have to leave good things behind,” he said. “I like certain things here.”
Molly was going to reply and then she glanced at the sky and her eyes grew wide and a smile blossomed on her face. “Look, John! It’s starting!” She motioned for him to lie down and move closer to her, and he did, turning his face towards the sky and seeing the meteor shower was indeed starting. He watched for a few moments, enjoying the beauty of it all, and then cast a glance at Molly, taking in the look of awe and wonder on her face. Yes, he supposed he could leave, could go fulfill the occasional desire he had to explore the world. But then he would have to leave her and give up chances for moments like this, and even if they never led anywhere, for the moment he wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world.