The moon shone high in the midnight sky, a silver ball, beaming down on the fading lights of the town; whispering its goodnight to a sleeping world. I watched as its path slowly traveled across the wooden floor of my attic. The room was far from pleasant, and I could not stay warm. Sleeping under the thin covers of my bed was the best I could do when it came to warmth. But I was not sleepy. I never was on nights like this. The wind had yet again blown the clouds above, leaving a window through which the moon could smile. In spite of the cold, I smiled back at it.
Stars around it faded, the bright light dimming them to dots, barely visible to my eyes. As I gazed, I noticed only one star remained bright. The more I watched it, my soul was caught; all by itself in its little corner of the sky, it shone on, inspiring me, reassuring me, glowing with light. How can it stay so bright? Why does it not fade? I wondered.
Enchanted by its beauty, its magic worked on me; my lips began forming words. As I went along, the words suggested themselves to me; they appeared in my heart, then moved to my head.
Soon, a melody floated out upon the air, soft and sorrowful. It wove its way through the night, a golden sensation, stealing into my soul. My heart melted within me, and I sang with all I was.
“Star in the sky,
Lonely and blue,
Farwell to thy
So come tomorrow
Thy smile array,
And all the world’s sorrow
Be wiped far away!
Oh will that day
Come sunrise, or nay?
Oh star in the sky—
My star in the sky,
I bid thee goodbye,
Fair star yonder nigh,
Oh star in the sky—
My star in the sky.”
The last note lingered wistfully in the night.
I remained still until all faded into silence.
And then my dreams carried me away, setting me upon the moon, to look down at the world. My body was still confined inside the attic, but my soul had flown up, up, up to be free! I had none of the troubles of the world. I merely smiled down at them from my perch on the moon. I lived among the stars, released from the weight of my life—truly living! My heart was free!
I was falling. Falling, down to earth, clutching at the moon, slipping. I tried to ignore it. But it came again.
My head jerked as if I had really fallen. My dreams shattered as I was startled back into reality.
Annoyed and disappointed, I looked down.
“Hullo there!” came a loud whisper. There below me in the streets, stood a boy. Head upraised, he looked up at me expectantly. He nodded when I finally found him.
“Hullo,” I whispered back, my annoyance quickly turning into curiosity. “Who are you?”
“Come down, and I’ll tell you!” Even in from a distance, I could see the excitement in his eyes. Sorry, but firm, I shook my head.
“I can’t come. They wouldn’t let me.”
“Won’t let you?” he asked, puzzled.
“The headmaster. We’re not allowed to come out at night,” I explained.
“Silly!” The boy grinned suddenly. “I didn’t mean come out the front door!”
“How else would I get out?”
“Why, the window, of course!” He looked at me in disbelief. Staring down, I saw what he meant. I had spent so much of my time gazing at the skies, that I had never noticed how little the roof slanted, and how it led right up to the next roof. How easy it looked to jump from there. I shrugged.
“Do you think I can?” I asked, a little timidly.
“Even my little sister can jump steeper roofs than yours!” he said, good-naturedly. “Of course you can, if you have a mind to! That is, unless you’re too afraid…”
“I’m not afraid!” I retorted scornfully, adding with a little less audacity, “You’ll have to direct me as I go along.”
He nodded. Carefully, I slid into my boots, and took one step outside the window. I was fine. I put my other foot over the side.
“Don’t forget to close the window!” came the boy’s sharp whisper from below. Quietly, I pulled the window down, leaving it open just a crack.
I took another step. And another. They kept getting easier as I went along. I had reached the next roof. It was just a little jump, but it made me nervous. I stopped.
“Come on! You can do it!” the boy called up encouragingly. I backed up a step, then propelled myself over to the other side. I landed safely. He grinned up at me. I made my way slowly to the edge of the roof. Here I would jump to the ground. I almost turned away. I might’ve. Who knows what I would’ve done if I hadn’t remembered his words; they repeated over and over in my head: “too afraid.” Spoken in jest at the time, I took them seriously now. I did not want to be a coward. I did not want to be afraid. I was desperately frightened of the drop, but pride urged me on.
I took one long, shaky breath, closed my eyes, and jumped. In that one moment, my throat tightened. I couldn’t scream. I was flying…falling…down! That moment seemed interminable. A spilt second before I hit the ground, my eyes opened to see the ever-nearing cobblestones.
I landed with a thud on my feet.
The next moment, a hand was pulling me up by the arm.
“You’re a plucky one!” said the boy, with obvious admiration. “I didn’t think you’d jump, you looked so dreadfully frightened. Plucky, I say!” He paused as I dusted off my dress.
“For telling me I was too afraid.”
“You’re thanking me for that?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, if you hadn’t told me, I might not’ve jumped at the end,” I explained. He burst out laughing.
“I said it only to tease you, you know.” He grinned amusedly at me.
“I didn’t want to be a coward anyways!”
“I’m Jesse,” he said, holding out a hand. It was big and rough; I was taken aback for just a moment. Then I took it shyly. “What’s your name?”
“My name?” I asked, bewildered. No one had ever asked my name before.
“You have a name, don’t you?” he persisted, smiling, but puzzled. I hesitated. Slowly, I told him,
“Pleased to meet you, Emily,” he grinned, giving my hand a hearty squeeze. Intimidated by his bold manner, I withdrew my small hands from his large ones.
“Why did you want me?”
“Come with me, and I’ll tell you.” His eyes danced with mischief. I shook my head. Why couldn’t I make him see?
“Please, I can’t.”
“Why ever not?”
“I just can’t go away.”
“But why?” he asked, obviously frustrated with me.
My heart sank. I couldn’t tell him; I didn’t want to tell him about the scars. I did not know why. It was a new sensation to me, that I actually cared if he knew or not. But it dawned on me in that moment that I did care. He had treated me like a real friend, he had called me down, because he had not seen my scars. Once he saw them, our friendship would end. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but not now, not yet.
“I—” I stopped. Facing me, he put his hands on his hips.
“Why can’t you come? Don’t you like me? Don’t you want to come?”
His persistence drove me to tell him.
“I’d be recognized anywhere.” Slowly, reluctantly, I pulled back my hair to reveal the hidden scars. I could feel his eyes penetrate through the darkness to those white, gleaming scars disfiguring my face.
Slowly, he nodded. He understood, and it would be over now. I turned my head away, unclasping my hair to cover those scars that had only begun to mean something that very moment.
His hand stopped me.
“Don’t go, please don’t!” Amazed, I looked back.
“Please come! Father would like you ever so much, I think.”
“But—” I gestured to my face. He shook his head sympathetically.
“Never mind. He won’t care. Just come.”
He took my arm and began to lead me down the lane. I followed, unable to protest, dazed by what had just taken place. Gradually, the cool air worked on me, and I revived enough to stop.
“But I can’t run away.”
“Too late, you already have.”
His carelessness brought a shy smile to my face.
“Don’t worry,” he added. “We’ll get you home by dawn.”
I hesitate for a moment, then, casting a glance back at the orphanage, I turned resolutely and began to walk. Again, I sense his admiration for such “pluckiness”, and, encouraged, I tried something that before, I would’ve thought absolutely incredible.
“Race you to the lamppost!”
We were off. I felt like I was flying in the night air, the wind whipping my hair back, streaming behind me. I had gotten a head start, but he quickly overtook me and won. I did not argue with that fact. I only felt as though I was free, a bird, liberated from a long imprisonment.
I was tired and out of breath, but I started laughing. Astonished, he stared at me; then he, too, began to laugh. And in that moment, I knew that I had found a friend.
After recovering our breaths, we started off to his house.
“Father will be waiting for us, probably wondering where we are by now.”
“Does he know I’m coming?” I asked, surprised.
“Of course! That’s why—” he stopped short.
“I told you I’d tell you if you came.” His eyes twinkled.
“I am coming!” I retorted in playful frustration.
“I’ll let Father tell you when we get there,” was his only answer, intended to frustrate me even more, and succeeding, though I did not show it.
“Very well,” I said, demurely. Our conversation ended for a little while. I enjoyed the night air and felt no need to talk. Soon, however, I became aware that Jesse looked up at me every so often with a puzzled air. Finally, I gathered my courage to ask him,
“What’s the matter?” He seemed slightly embarrassed, and only shook his head. But a moment later, he changed his mind.
“I was looking at your scars.”
Instinctively, my hand strayed to my face. My hair had been pulled back when we raced; I quickly pulled it over my scars once more to hide them; they still pained me.
“What happened? I mean, why do you have those scars?”
Bowing my head, I whispered, “The pox.” I looked up, but his eyes held no mischief; sadness and grief had taken its place. Once dancing with fun, they now glistened with unshed tears. When it became apparent that I had noticed, he gulped and hurriedly brushed his sleeve over them, hastening to explain. “My mother had the pox…died of it when I was barely eight. I miss her terribly.”
“Oh Jesse!” It was all I could say.
Quietly, I squeezed his hand. He smiled sadly, and we walked on in silence. He seemed to forget I was there, and walked with his head down.
I noticed we had just entered a wide street. Large houses stood on either side, magnificent in stature and appearance. I merely followed Jesse; though deep in thought, he seemed to know where he was going. Suddenly, he stopped. Jerking his head up, he seemed to see me again.
I nodded, understanding without more explanation.
“It’s alright,” I said, smiling.
“This is home.” He gestured up.
Frightened, amazed, I looked up. We stood before the door of one of the largest houses on the street; it was several stories high, and many windows adorned its brick walls. A small cherry tree sat out in front, its boughs swaying gently in the wind.
“You live here?!” I asked in astonishment.
He grinned, nodded, and laughed.
“I’ll show you up to Father. Then we can see about dinner.”