Stars Come Down
It was one of those days when you just don't care how wet you are. A rainstorm was thudding against the swollen hill, strips of water peeling off down the sides and feeding the lake. The ceiling of clouds had tightened overhead, still like a painting but gradually deepening to a dark plum color along with the falling rain. We were soaked through.
Erin and I had spent the afternoon swimming at the lake just west of Faerieland and writing songs on my guitar, and now we were walking back up the slope towards the city. The faerie Zafara's lavender hair hung down her back like a sodden rope, and the loose, dark shirt she was wearing had bunched up behind her shoulders, the edges her folded wings showing through. A blue Zafara myself, with no wings to worry about, I'd already balled up my own shirt and wrapped it around my guitar. The air was warm.
"Danny, look," Erin said, slowing down a bit to let me catch up. Her eyelashes had collected a spray of tiny dewdrops. "Let's stop for a minute."
She pointed up ahead where a spreading white tree squatted like a mushroom on a flat part of the hill. It was one of that kind you only see in west Faerieland, with the seeds that fall as continuously as the rain. I could see the dark ground beneath the branches rippling. "Sure. Take a little break, yeah?"
I let Erin lead me up the hill. We had to jump over one of the runoff streams, and I stopped to let the purplish water wash a bit of the mud off my ankles. Erin, almost on tiptoe, had stepped into the circle of dryness under the dripping leaves, and I watched as she threaded her way through the seething undergrowth until she stood sheltered next to the tree's muscular, luminescent trunk. The bark gave off a dim silvery light, making shadows that hugged the angles of her face.
I followed her. At my feet, seeds that dropped from the branches plunged into the soil, and their stems sprouted back up immediately, tense and quick like snakes. They puffed into bloom with leaves and tiny white blossoms, only to wither and crumble to the ground, their life cycle a matter of seconds. Seeds bounced off my fur as I walked over to Erin.
"Love this place," she said, pulling the damp shirt closer around her shoulders.
I unbundled my guitar, which was made of the same waxy wood as the tree. Droplets of water beaded off of its pearly surface as I leaned it against the trunk. Even without touching it, I could feel the heat radiating from the tree's glowing core.
"It's peaceful," I said, listening to the rustling of the plants as they thrust their heads up and returned to the earth. Outside, the rain made a more consistent sound, layering into a steady exhale as it diminished in the distance. A drop of water ran down my forehead, and I lifted a hand to smooth my wet hair.
"We should stay at least until the stars come down," Erin said, gazing up through a gap in the pallid leaves.
"We can stay as long as we feel like," I said, smiling. "No need to set a deadline."
I sat down with my back against the ridges of the warm tree trunk. Erin stared at the sky for a few seconds before holding her palm out in front of her. I watched as she moved to catch the seeds as they dropped from the tree. "What are you doing?"
"What's it look like, silly?" Every seed that landed in her hand jabbed out the beginnings of a root, but without any soil to sustain them, they burst like raindrops and disintegrated. "You know the story."
This species of tree had some sort of double life cycle, where something like one in every hundred thousand of all the seeds it dropped would actually germinate normally and grow into an adult. They were said to have been created by an earth faerie; no one knows her name, or whether she still calls Faerieland home. It was good luck if you caught a falling seed and it didn't burst, because that meant you could go home and plant it and have your own tree wherever you wanted. It was pretty rare.
Erin let her hand fall and sat down next to me. "Always worth a try," she said, tilting her head back and resting it against the bark. "You never know."
The rain was getting darker.
"Did you have fun today?" I said, watching as a breath of wind in the still night bent the lines of water coming down.
"I did." I could feel Erin turn to look at me. "I did, I had a great time."
I reached past my bunched-up shirt and picked up the guitar. The strings looked like threads of a Spyder web, and I gave them a little strum as I nestled the guitar in my lap. It was warm from being propped against the tree.
"Want to write another song?" Erin said.
I shook my head and played a few lazy chords. Erin seemed tense sitting next to me, kind of like a taut string herself. I wanted her to loosen up. She put out her hand again, and I watched the seeds burst in her palm.
I thought about how energetic she'd been at the lake, how she kept pulling my arm and dragging me into the sky-blue water so we could watch the ripples the raindrops made as they sprinkled the surface. That was the first thing she wanted to write about, so we sat under a little awning and messed around with the idea. Her lyrics weren't that good, but at least she knew it, and after we went in and out of the water a couple more times we hit a better idea and laid down a few verses together. I could tell she was really happy about how it turned out.
I hadn't really known Erin that well until this summer. We started hanging out after we talked for a while at a party for the Festival of Neggs, and we were friendly from the get-go. I enjoyed talking with her. This was the first time I'd brought out the guitar. Now I was strumming away under a glowing white tree in the middle of a beautiful night, the lights of Faerie City blinking through the rain as if trying to catch a glimpse of us from the distance.
She'd stretched out her legs, and her hands were clasped in her lap. I let the music waver and die out, melting back into the sound of the rain. I turned toward her and felt a blush of warmth from the tree.
"Look," she whispered without bending her gaze. Her eyes reflected speckles of light beyond the fringe of leaves.
The stars were coming down.
The clouds and the rain had faded to black, and some of the droplets began to streak down with flashes of white. Just a few at first, but then there were more and more until we were staring at a sparkling curtain in the darkness. The seeds from the tree danced at our feet. It was getting colder, and the warmth from the trunk behind us felt more intense.
But all of this was nothing new, just the way falling water behaves in this enchanted home of ours, and something scraped inside of me, wanting release.
Erin cupped her palms and held them out. Her smile was like an itch, and I fought the urge to pull her arms down. "Stop trying to catch them," I said, laughing on the outside. "Just let them fall like they're supposed to."
She looked at me quickly. "Oh," she said, folding her hands back into her lap. "Sorry. I was just thinking how special it would be if this was the night we found a seed you can keep."
"Come on," I said, nudging my elbow into her side. "We don't need that."
My legs were still crossed under the guitar. I picked it up and plucked a few lonesome notes, watching as Erin closed her eyes, her body still fastened at the knee. Her hair was starting to dry, and a few strands clung together and hung down over her face. The fabric of her shirt was becoming stiff.
Something was still rough inside me, and I soaked it in music as Erin held herself a few lengths away. I played until I started to feel tired. Erin was looking out at the falling stars, and I could see the lights of Faerie City glimmering further up the hill. I wondered what time it was.
Eventually I put down the guitar and leaned forward. There were ridges pressed into my back from the tree bark, and I ran my fingertips over them.
Erin laughed. "That's a good look," she said.
I stood to shake out my shirt, and Erin rose as I pulled it over my head. She moved behind me and folded the collar down around my neck. I heaved a neutral sigh and smiled at her. "Ready?"
She nodded, and I picked up my guitar. The plants brushed against our feet as we walked out from under the tree. I was surprised at how cold the rain was.
Erin walked close to me. "Thanks for keeping me busy today," she said. "This was a good distraction."
I looked down at her. "I'm glad."
I didn't say anything else, and she fell silent. We walked together through the glittering rain, back up the hill and into the city, and I could feel her glances searching me from time to time, as if she had no idea, her eyes uncertain even as we parted ways with a wet hug on the front steps of her house.