THE MOON TO MY SUN by Julie Murphy
I swung my leg over Mae’s second story window, steadying myself on her mother’s lattice of vines. Mae followed close behind, yelping as her hand slipped.
I reached up to support her, and my hand unavoidably slid up her olive colored pleated skirt. Blush warmed my cheeks, but Mae didn’t even flinch.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
“Shhh,” I gently urged. “They’re going to wake up.”
“Tabby, you know Papa sleeps like a bear. It’s my mama we gotta worry about.”
“Your mama is the bear,” I said.
She stifled her chuckle as my feet hit the ground. I swung my messenger bag around and offered my hand to her as she jumped over her mother’s flowerbed.
The freshly fallen leaves that dusted her front yard made a completely silent escape impossible, so we made a run for it, leaves crunching beneath us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a second floor light switch on. I grabbed Mae’s hand and tugged her closer to me. “Come on!”
I slid behind the wheel of my daddy’s old GMC pickup just as another light turned on. This one coming from downstairs. My heart slammed against my chest, and Mae shrieked with laughter as she jumped into the passenger’s side.
“Go, go, go, go!” she cheered.
I started the car and hit the gas all in one motion, my tires squealing theatrically.
For a moment, the only sound between us was our heaving breaths as we navigated our way out of town.
“Just drive normal,” Mae said as I was about to roll through a stop sign. “You don’t want to get pulled over for something dumb.”
I rolled my eyes at her, but she was right. “Put your seatbelt on.”
“Is that an order?”
“Did I say please?” I joked, reaching over her lap for her seatbelt and buckling her in myself. In that moment, we were too close. She exhaled, and I inhaled, breathing her in like fresh air.
“Full service, huh?” Each word dropped between us like water in a bucket.
“That’s what she said,” I spat back, trying my best to cut the thick tension we shared.
Mae sputtered with laughter. “I walked right into that.”
“You did,” I told her. “You always have.”
Mae played DJ the whole way to the lake. It was some sort of witchcraft that she was able to find the exact music to keep me awake. I’d never been a nighttime person. Not like Mae. My body was always right on tune with the sun. Rising and setting like clockwork. So this late night adventure? This was all for Mae. She was the only person I’d ever miss out on perfectly good sleep for.
As we neared closer to the lake, she leaned over the center console and rested her head against my arm, humming along to her favorite song. Any song Mae knew the words to was her favorite song. She’d recognize a tune on the radio and wiggle in her seat, Oh God. This is my favorite song.
She was reliable in unexpected ways, and I was reliable in the most mundane of ways. Somehow it’s what made us such a good match. I kept her grounded and she pushed my head into the clouds.
The truck rocked back and forth along the gravel as we turned down the unmarked road to our dock. It was missing a few slats and the ladder was broken, but it always felt hidden. Like the world had tucked it away just for us.
But there would be no swimming tonight. It was the first truly cool fall night of the year with the temperature dipping down into the high forties. It was the kind of night that promised morning frost. Mae was dressed for it, too, in her olive wool skirt, ivory sweater, high-heeled boots and burgundy tights. Mae was always over eager for the change of seasons. She’d sweat through warm fall days in boots and sweaters, in the hopes that her sheer willpower would summon the appropriate weather.
I dressed warm, too, but my clothing always existed solely for the purpose of protecting my body from the elements. Which is why I wore a white thermal shirt and overalls with grass-stained knees tucked into hunter green galoshes.
I pulled the truck up as close to the edge of the lake as I could.
“We never make it out this way so late in the year,” I said.
Mae let out a delighted sigh. “Isn’t there just something so wonderful about fall? Even the moon feels different. Look at it.”
I looked at the moon like she said. And I didn’t think it looked any different, but I begged myself to see what she saw so that I could just live in Mae’s world for a little longer.
She picked her head up and pulled my hand to her lips, just holding it there and inhaling the scent of my skin.
There was so much I wanted to say. Something—something more existed between us. But I didn’t know what to call it, and was it even real if we didn’t point it out? The way her head rested against my arm. The way my hand slid up her thigh as I steadied her while we climbed out her window. And all those nights spent laying on the floor of her Papa’s study, sipping from one of his expensive bottles of scotch. All those near kisses that never stood a chance of becoming more than a possibility. Not now.
And then she let go. “Sun’s gonna be up soon, Tabby.”
I nodded as I turned the truck off and pocketed the keys. Dragging my feet, I walked around the back of the truck to the passenger’s side door. I looked up at Mae’s moon and took a deep breath before opening the door and unbuckling the gold and black urn from where it sat.
Mae. Every bit of her was in this urn. Ashes. All that remained of my best friend and the person who I feared to be my one and only true love.
I walked to the edge of the dock with the urn clutched close to my chest. I never promised Mae I would scatter her ashes. Talking about what she might want in case of something like this was not a luxury we were afforded. But I knew Mae, and I knew her better than anyone else could ever claim to.
I sat down so close to the edge of the dock that I felt like I was floating above the water. Carefully, I lifted the heavy lid from the urn.
I wouldn’t scatter all of her ashes. Just my share. Was it so wrong of me to think that I was owed this? That this little bit of her belonged to me and only me?
It broke my heart to know that every ounce of her didn’t belong to me, but I took my share of her and I set her free.
Carefully, I reached into the urn, and grabbed a fistful of the ashes before replacing the lid and setting down the rest beside me.
I held my fist out into the air, and let go. A lazy gust of wind blew my share of Mae out into the lake. This part of her would stay here forever, at the end of this gravel road, all the way out to the edge of what had become our own private dock.
Mae’s moon washed over me as I said goodbye to the pieces of her that belonged only to me. I waited until my sun came up. Mae would always have the moon, but at least she left me the sun.
Julie Murphy is the #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of RAMONA BLUE, DUMPLIN’, and SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY. She lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cats who tolerate her. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading, traveling, watching movies so bad they’re good, or hunting down the perfect slice of pizza. Before writing full time, she held numerous jobs such as wedding dress consultant, failed barista, and ultimately librarian.