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Falling Stars

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‘Hey,’ Josh said, sticking his head out of his office. ‘What are you doing tonight?’

Donna stopped typing, looking up at him warily. ‘I’d planned to make myself dinner and watch trash TV, but I assume, since you’re taking an interest in my evening, those plans are about to change.’

‘Yeah.’ He leaned in the doorway. ‘I want you to come watch a meteor shower with me.’

That wasn’t the answer she’d been expecting. ‘Why?’

‘There’s meant to be a good one that happens around this time of year, and tonight’s the peak time.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know, I’m really getting into all this space stuff.’

‘You mean you’re really into attractive NASA representatives?’ she asked, wishing the whole thing didn’t make her feel quite so unreasonably irritated.

He stuck his hands in his pockets, smiling and sauntering closer. ‘Come on, Donna, don’t pretend you don’t think this stuff is cool.’

She sighed and admitted, ‘Yeah, I guess it would be nice to see. What’s it going to involve, exactly?’

‘Well, you have to get out of the city to see them properly, but I looked into it and there’s a good spot not that far away. Best time to see them is right after sunset; we go on a nice leisurely drive, see some meteors—we won’t even be back that late.’ He came to lean against her desk, saying confidentially, ‘I promise none of them are going to hit us. No need to sound the alarm.’

Donna glared at him. ‘On the list of things that are going to get you nowhere, mocking me about something dumb I said three years ago is right at the top.’

‘You’re right,’ he agreed, teasing grin fading a little.

‘What will get you somewhere is being very, very nice to me,’ she said primly.

‘Right. Sure. You look really pretty today.’

‘And?’

‘And we can pick up dinner before we go,’ he coaxed. ‘I’ll buy.’

She stared up at him for a moment. ‘You researched the best place to watch this thing from?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Fine,’ she said. ‘If it means that much to you, I’ll go.’

He grinned, pushing off the desk with his hands. ‘Good.’

***

‘I thought you knew how to get to this place,’ Donna said.

‘I do!’ Josh insisted, turning the map this way and that.

‘Look, why don’t you fold it up so you’ve just got the part you need and you’re not almost elbowing me in the face?’ she suggested, leaning well away from him.

‘Because—’

‘You don’t know which part you need,’ she finished for him, resigned.

He glared at her for a moment and then turned back to the map. ‘It’s definitely on here somewhere.’

‘Oh, right,’ she said, folding her arms, ‘so that’s just, what, fifty square miles?’

‘We’ll find it,’ Josh assured her.

‘You said it was a twenty-minute drive. How long were we driving aimlessly before you agreed to pull over?’

‘Twenty minutes, give or take, was what I said.’

She leaned her head against the window. ‘I told you we should have asked for directions.’

‘I already planned out a route!’

‘To the middle of nowhere?’ She stared outside. The light was beginning to fade fast. ‘You know we’ve been sitting here for nearly a half-hour? You know how many cars have passed? Two. And I think it was the same one twice. They’re probably as lost as we are.’

‘We’re not lost; we’re just checking the map.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Whatever. Why don’t you let me look? I bet I’ll find it faster.’

‘Because you don’t know the name of the place and I’ll recognize it as soon as I see it on here.’

There was a silence.

‘You don’t know what the place is called?’ Donna asked, tone quiet and even.

‘I do know! It just has a funny-sounding name!’

‘Remind me never to go on an actual road trip with you. Do you even have the right map?’

‘Of course I have the right map!’ Josh said indignantly. ‘I’m not an idiot!’

Donna decided against responding, leaving him to mutter at his map and picking at the salad she’d gotten for dinner. ‘Listen,’ she said, after ten minutes had passed with Josh apparently no closer to finding their destination, ‘I’m sure you’ll have thought of this already, but could this place be on this little index thing?’ She took the corner of the map between her thumb and forefinger and shook it.

‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s not that big a place. Which is why there’d be no point asking for directions, by the way, because I’m sure no one’s going to have heard of it.’

‘You don’t think the locals are more likely to know where it is than you?’

‘Well, I don’t know that we are local to it right now.’

‘Right.’ Her head fell back against the seat. ‘You know, sometimes I think I should make you go out into the sunlight more, and sometimes I think I should beat all notions of being an outdoorsman out of you forever.’

Josh ignored her.

‘Some consistency is all I’m asking for,’ she continued. ‘Mostly you act like vitamin D is poisonous, but then just occasionally you decide you want to get back to nature and—’

‘Green Point!’ Josh crowed suddenly.

She sat up. ‘You found it?’

‘I knew I’d recognize it! And we must be… here.’ He tapped the map. ‘Yeah, I know where we’re going now.’

‘How is “Green Point” a funny-sounding name?’ Donna asked, doing her seatbelt up again.

‘I don’t know. Who cares? We found it.’ Josh made a half-hearted attempt to fold the map and then flung it over into the backseat. ‘If we’re quick we can make it before the sun goes down.’ He turned the key in the ignition.

***

‘You didn’t think that sitting around with the engine off and the lights on might run the battery down?’ Donna asked.

‘Hey, you didn’t think about it either!’

‘Yeah, well, it’s not my car. You should’ve known how long we could afford to do that.’ She stabbed savagely at the salad. The leaves had wilted and become claggy with dressing now. ‘Can I have the rest of your noodles?’

‘I was actually going to—’

‘I’m stranded out here because of you, Josh,’ she reminded him.

‘Fine.’

Donna stared out at the deserted road, worrying at her bottom lip. ‘This is the perfect setting for a horror movie.’

‘It is not!’

‘Two people make a questionable decision to venture into the unknown, become lost in the middle of nowhere—’

‘It’s not the middle of nowhere; we’re like five miles out of the city! You can still see the lights!’

‘It’s far enough,’ Donna said, twirling some noodles around her fork. ‘No one to hear us scream.’

‘Would you stop?’ Josh asked, voice getting higher.

‘Probably those people in that car weren’t lost; probably they were checking to see how easy a target we are—’

‘Donna!’

She grinned. ‘Am I freaking you out?’

‘Yes!’ He gave her a pained look. ‘How long did Ryan say he’d be?’

‘I didn’t bother asking; Ryan’s a less reliable timekeeper than you are.’

‘Guess he’s going to turn out to be useful for something.’ He sighed. ‘God, he’s going to be annoying about this. Though maybe I won’t have to deal with him; maybe someone will pass by and jump start us.’

‘Or use us in a ritual sacrifice.’

‘Stop it.’

Donna put the empty noodle box down. ‘I wish we’d gotten something for dessert. I feel like something sweet, you know?’

‘Uh.’ Josh knelt up and leaned over into the backseat. ‘Hang on.’

‘What are you doing?’ she asked, turning to watch him as he pulled one of the seats down and reached into the trunk.

‘Think this is the kind of emergency my mom’s been gearing me up for all these years,’ he said, wriggling back into the front, large red box in his arms.

‘It wouldn’t have been easier to get out of the car and open the trunk?’

‘Maybe if you hadn’t talked about ritual sacrifices.’ He unclipped the box. ‘Think I should have some… energy bars or something in here. Not quite dessert, but…’

The box was well-organized. Donna knew the chaotic state of his desk, his apartment—god, the car they were sitting in was full of paper and empty wrappers, but this box of things that his mother had sent him had everything carefully arranged: cables wound into neat coils, four flashlights ordered by size. As she watched Josh move things about with none of his usual haphazard rifling, she felt as though she was looking in on something terribly private.

She swallowed around the lump in her throat. ‘Maybe you should take a few days off soon. Go visit your mom. No one could argue you haven’t earned a vacation.’

‘Maybe,’ he said vaguely, before pulling out a couple of cereal bars and waving them at her. ‘Here we go. You want the apple or the chocolate?’

‘Which one do you want?’ she asked.

‘The chocolate.’ He grinned. ‘You’re going to let me have it?’

‘Yeah,’ she said.

He met her eye. ‘Donna—this, it’s not—’ He gestured to the box. ‘It’s not a big deal, okay? It’s like your mom baking you stuff.’

‘I know that,’ she said hurriedly. ‘I know.’ She took the apple cereal bar out of his hand. ‘You got anything else in there?’

‘Um…’ He lifted a couple of things up to look underneath. ‘There’s some dried fruit. Can of kidney beans.’

‘Maybe we don’t need anyone to rescue us,’ Donna said, munching on her cereal bar. ‘Maybe we can just live off this. We could forage for berries when it runs out.’

He pulled a face. ‘Don’t think I’m a foraging kind of guy.’

‘No,’ she agreed, smiling.

They ate in silence for a minute. Donna put her empty wrapper in her pocket, determined not to add to the mess on the floor. ‘It’s getting cold.’

‘Let me consult the box,’ Josh said, voice deepening, and she laughed when he waved his hands over it like one of those fake TV psychics with a crystal ball, gratefully taking the Yale sweater he handed her. ‘It’ll be far too big,’ he warned.

‘Oversized sweaters are the best.’ She pulled it on and snuggled back against the seat. ‘I may have to steal this, you know. You can’t just give me something this cozy and expect that I’m not going to covet it.’

Josh smiled and snapped the lid of the box closed again, putting it on the backseat. ‘Well, that’s fine, because there’s a backup sweater at home that wouldn’t fit in there.’

‘Then it’s decided. I’m borrowing this indefinitely.’ She closed her eyes for a moment. ‘Thank you for bringing me tonight. Seriously,’ she continued, at his incredulous look, ‘I think it’s cool that you’re into this. And I think it was sweet of you to invite me.’

He blinked at her a couple of times. ‘That’s okay.’

‘I’m sorry you didn’t get to see them.’

He shrugged. ‘There’ll be other meteor showers. I’ll make sure I know where we’re going next time.’

Donna shivered again, tucking her hands up into the sleeves of the sweater.

‘You’re that cold?’ Josh asked, concern lacing his voice.

‘I’m not about to die of hypothermia, or anything.’

‘You can have my jacket, if you like.’

‘You’ll freeze, Josh. It’s fine.’

‘Or we could, ah…’ He closed his eyes, rubbing his fingers against his eyelid. ‘Hm. Yeah. This might be weird, but we could always, you know, huddle. I can clear the backseat and we can just…’ He gave an awkward laugh. ‘Okay, this definitely sounds like a line; forget it.’

‘No, that’d be—’ Donna sat up straighter in the chair. ‘I wouldn’t mind doing that.’

‘Yeah?’

‘It could be a matter of life and death,’ she said, trying to make a joke of it and really, really hoping he wouldn’t be weird with her for the rest of the night.

Thankfully he nodded in mock-seriousness. ‘That’s very true.’

‘We might actually have to get out of the car, though.’

‘We’ll brave it together.’ He went to open the door. ‘Oh, wait. There’s a car coming.’

‘Ryan?’ she suggested.

‘Can’t be. It’s too soon after you phoned him, and it’s coming from the wrong direction.’ He frowned. ‘It’s slowing down.’

She grabbed hold of his arm, leaning into him. ‘They probably just… want to check we’re okay.’

‘Yeah,’ he said, sounding nervous.

‘Though maybe you should check your box for something we can use as a weapon.’

Before Josh could reach the box, the car pulled up alongside them.

‘Oh,’ he said in surprise, ‘it is Ryan.’

‘You were out here to watch a “meteor shower”?’ Ryan asked with a knowing expression, once he and Josh had rolled their windows down.

‘Yes, actually,’ Josh snapped.

Ryan grinned. ‘Okay. We’ll stick to that story. Hey, Donna.’

‘Hey.’ She raised a hand. ‘How’d you get here so fast?’

‘Was that fast?’ Ryan asked, looking bewildered. ‘I don’t know, it’s like three minutes on the freeway.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Josh demanded.

‘The freeway is…’ Ryan pointed vaguely over his shoulder. ‘You want me to jump start you?’

‘Please,’ Josh said. He waited until Ryan had started backing up before turning to Donna. ‘I thought I worked out the quickest route!’

‘It seems you were wrong,’ she said, opening the car door. ‘Pop the hood and come help.’

Josh rubbed his hands together as they stood out in the cold night air. ‘Maybe it’s too chilly to lie out and look for meteors.’

‘Seriously,’ Ryan said, as he attached one of the jump cables and passed the other to Donna, ‘you can stop with the meteors. I’m very discreet.’

‘Yeah, that’s the word I’d use,’ Josh muttered, slouching against the side of the car.

Donna finished attaching her jump cable and called ‘We’re good,’ to Ryan, coming around to stand with Josh as Ryan went to start his car. ‘You want to give him a break?’ she asked quietly. ‘He did come and rescue us.’

‘From what he thinks is a secret tryst! As if we’d call him if we were… you know.’

She smiled. ‘We were about to huddle for warmth. Anything could have happened.’ She tilted her head up. ‘Hey!’

‘What?’

‘That’s—’ She grabbed his arm and pointed. ‘Look, right there! Wait…’ Her grip tightened at the next quick streak of silver in the sky. ‘There, look!’

‘Hey!’ Josh straightened up. ‘I didn’t think we’d be able to see them this close to the city!’

‘There you go,’ Donna said. ‘The night wasn’t a total bust after all.’

‘No, it wasn’t.’

They smiled at each other.

‘That’s probably working now,’ Ryan called.

Josh raised his eyebrows at her. ‘Let’s give this a go.’

***

 

‘Donna?’ Josh stuck his head into her office. ‘We should go if we want to get up there before sunset.’

Donna typed a little faster. ‘I’m nearly done; give me a second.’ She nodded at the bag in his hand. ‘You got dinner already?’

‘Your favorite.’ He bounced a little on his toes. ‘Hurry up!’

She huffed and closed her laptop over. ‘I’m hurrying! Why are you being so impatient?’

‘The meteors aren’t going to wait for us, Donna,’ he told her, helping her on with her coat. ‘And I think tonight’s going to be good.’

She smiled at him as he opened the door for her. ‘Really?’

He touched his fingers to the little box inside his breast pocket as she walked off ahead of him down the corridor. ‘Oh, definitely.’