The hilltop was bare. Just a few smatterings of yellow grass under the large tree, which formed a shelter over my head. Near the base of the trunk was nothing but dirt. Tiny yellow flowers clung to the bark, some sort of symbiosis.
Just past that refuge was where I lay on my stomach. I’d found a bed of moss and lichen and was keen to take it. The ground was cold but I didn’t care. I could smell the deep earth churning, feel the thrum of it all beneath me. Behind me I knew the lamps from the town would turn on soon, but I didn’t look back to check. They didn’t matter to me now.
I lay on my stomach for one reason; something told to me at school. Just a rumor I was sure, but I was here anyways. They said if you lay on your stomach and watch the sunset at the top of the hill, you can see it again from the top of the tree. And after you watch it twice in a day, your true love will be revealed. What did I have to lose?
I watched the great orb sink in the sky. As it fell, the colors began to shift and fade, like a siren in the distance. Orange became pink, became red, became purple, before diffusing out to indigo.
At what point is love true? I didn’t have a crush on anyone. Love wasn’t on my map. It all sounded like a joke to me. I kept waiting to hear the sound of the bikes ride up the hill to laugh at me in the tree. But I hadn’t gotten there yet.
The orange spec on the horizon, like a drop far away, melted into the horizon. The rays spread across the vast forest like honey into milk. Nothing so sweet.
I guess I came for curiosity. I thought even if it was all just a joke, just a rumor, what could I lose watching the sunset? I’d always liked being alone. Having time to think. There is no finer privilege than to pause. The Sun dipped beneath the horizon, all reflection now, and I got to my feet.
I clambered into the tree, the bark softly biting into my hands, aware of me as it swayed. I felt the sticky sap and found a new purchase, and climbed further on. There was a branch, near the top, perfect for a seat. At least that part had been true.
I situated myself on the branch after testing to make sure it’d hold. And it would. The Sun kissed the horizon once more, and I settled in for the next show.
I’d always loved birds, from a distance. Up close they frightened me, but away, I could see them at their best, singing and soaring. So light and invisible.
Already the stars had started to peak out above me. I saw the rough shapes my Mom had shown me through the telescope she kept under the overhang, on the deck. On a clear night, she’d get her tea and drag it into the yard, and if I was around she’d let me look and point out the landmarks she knew. Pisces sat low over my head now.
As the last drop of the Sun fizzled beyond the veil, I looked around for a sign. A cricket chirped in the grass far away. I had nothing. All things grey on the sunset side of the Earth.
I didn’t want to look back at the town. To do so would be to fail. I got down from the tree as steadily as I could, and found my spot among the rocks and roots once more. I lay on my back, and above me knew that must be it.
The stars, static in their orbits, started to fall one by one towards the city. A trickle at first, soon becoming a stream, a river building in the sky. I watched the trails, streaking in my vision, pointing me home. Only then did I let myself look.