“A Bit of Space,” by Jennifer Diemer
Every night, Molly waits helplessly for Cel to return to her from another world. But now Cel has forged a gift to bridge the billions of miles between them.
(photo by Wild Lens)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“A Bit of Space”
by Jennifer Diemer
The owl shows me the way.
I wait for it every night. On the back porch, I bite my nails and tap my foot. I pace back and forth or sit with my arms wrapped tight around my knees, scanning the sky for wings until my neck aches.
Sometimes the owl comes—brilliant white against the middle-of-nowhere, black-as-soot sky. More often, I linger alone, anxious and shivering, until sunrise.
But tonight feathers brush against the crescent moon, and the owl swoops low, circles the yard three times. And then I’m chasing it across the snow-dusted lawn, plunging headfirst into the evergreen forest.
The woods are a thousand acres deep. I might never find her, if not for the owl; she’s unable to arrive in the same place twice. It’s hard to be precise, I imagine, from such a height.
And she can’t come to me, because someone might see her. And if they saw her, they’d know. They’d be afraid. And they’d talk: call the newspapers, the Enquirer. The FBI.
So the forest is our rendezvous. No one around here takes walks in the woods. They’re too busy watching giant televisions, fingers tapping on phones, to remember there’s a whole world—a whole universe—evolving just beyond their double-bolted doors.
My heart beats hard as I run, breathing in the cold, white air, boot heels crunching over thin patches of ice. I slip and grapple for a nearby branch, but I’m careful to keep my eyes on the owl, because it doesn’t wait for me, doesn’t care whether I’m following or not. It isn’t really an owl, of course, or even alive. She made it for me—out of stars or machines or something more mysterious. Whatever it is, or isn’t, the owl is my compass, pointing always to her.
My nose and ears smart in the chill air, and I tug down on my hat, press a hand to my frozen face.
I stop, panting, and gaze into her endless eyes. “Cel. Oh, Cel, I missed you.”
She’s leaning against a spindly birch and smiling at me as if I’m a wonder. Her silver gaze is misty, gleaming. The owl alights upon her shoulder, folds its wings neatly and goes as still as the trees, as silent.
“It’s been so long,” I whisper, holding back tears. “Nearly a month. I was afraid—”
She’s beside me. She didn’t walk, didn’t move, but she’s crossed the space between us to wrap her arms around my waist and press her lips to my cheek. In my ear, she breathes, “I promised I’d always return for you.”
“But anything could happen. What if—”
“Molly.” I feel her mouth arc into a smile against my neck. “Would you like to know where I’ve been, what I’ve done?”
I swallow and turn toward her. Our eyes lock. A thrill races through me at the strange loveliness of her—familiar and alien, known and unknown. “Yes,” I say, voice gruff with emotion. “Please tell me.”
She rests one long-fingered hand against my cheek. “I made something for you. The parts were difficult to acquire. But…” Her eyes flash with mischief, and she casts a glance over her shoulder, toward the large boulder beyond. “I think you’ll be pleased.”
I wrap my arms around her neck and land a kiss on her nose. “You’re in a playful mood tonight.”
“I’m excited. And I hope you will be, too.” She takes my hands and pulls me along. “Come.”
We run together—a brown-haired girl in a red hand-me-down winter coat and a black-haired girl in a bodysuit that shimmers and pools like mercury. Cel’s hand is cool in mine. She tosses bright, eager smiles at me as we race past the trees, and I catch her excitement, grinning up at the leaf-laced night sky.
“How much further?” I ask, when we pass the marsh. “Where is it?”
“In the clearing,” Cel smiles, ruffling my hair and laughing when I blow her a kiss.
But we reach the clearing, and I whirl around, making circles in the snow. There’s nothing here. Nothing but paw prints in the slush and sharp, white stars dangling above us.
I tilt my head questioningly and raise a brow. “I don’t understand. Where are we—”
“Look,” Cel says, and she draws something from the pouch on her belt. Upon her palm rests a perfect circle of silver: dainty, plain, and thin. It looks like…
“A ring?” I blink, confused. “It’s pretty, Cel. You made it?”
“Mm. I modeled it after the rings around my world, Molly. But it’s more than that.” She takes the ring between her thumb and forefinger and holds it up to her eye, stares at me through the hole. “It’s a ring of space. Space, Molly. A pocket. A hole.” With each word, her voice grows louder, more excited, but I bite my lip and shake my head.
“What do you mean, a hole? Like a black hole?”
“No, no. A hole like…” She glances about, her gaze resting upon the pine trees surrounding us. “A hole like a hiding place. Like a nook. Here.” Hand in hand, we walk over to a thick tree trunk pitted with woodpecker cavities, and Cel nods. “A hole like a carved-out space. A safe area.” Her eyes fall closed, and when she opens them, they reflect my own eyes, wide and pale.
“I mean a haven, Molly. A place for us.”
A hundred questions take shape within me, but before I can speak, Cel takes my hand—so gently, as if she’s grasping something fragile and precious—and slides the smooth ring onto my second finger. It fits as if it were made just for me. I hold my hand up to the stars to marvel at the cool, shining circle, silver as Cel’s extraordinary eyes.
“All you have to do now is stand in an open area and think of me,” she whispers, kissing the back of my palm before raising her gaze to meet mine. “Think of me, Molly, whenever you need me, and we’ll be together. In a space of our own.”
“You mean, the ring—”
“Yes,” she smiles, tilting her head to capture my mouth lightly. “Try it.”
Perplexed, and dazed by the warmth of Cel’s nearness, I breathe deeply and close my eyes, imagining the lovely, lithe shape of her, the electricity of her presence, and my stomach falls, as if I’ve ridden over the peak of a mountain, and I hear Cel’s voice, as if from far away, call out for me.
Slowly, I raise my eyelids, and I see only stars. And Cel. She looks like a star, gleaming just as brightly, undimmed by the heavy weight of my Earth. Because we aren’t on Earth. We’re in the sky, or space, or nowhere, but there’s solidity beneath my feet, and I can move, walk, breathe…
“What—” I begin, but I can’t finish, because I don’t know what I meant to ask.
Cel’s smiling at me, reaching for me, and I fall into her arms and laugh and cry a little, but then I lift my head from her chest and look up at her, and I know what to say. “Our own world,” I whisper, truly crying now. “You’ve made us our own world. Haven’t you?”
“A bit of space,” she says quietly, kissing my tears away. “Safe space. A bridge between your world and mine. We can meet here whenever you’d like. And stay for as long as you’d like. And maybe someday…” Her gaze softens as she brushes my hair back from my face. “Maybe someday I’ll show you my world. When you’re ready.”
I kiss her, tasting the stars within her, and cradle the ring against my heart. “Thank you. I don’t understand how you did this, or what it cost you to do it, but—”
“I’d do anything for you.” Cel pulls me close, so that there is no space between us. I feel her chest rise and fall in a laugh before she kisses my hair. “There’s little need for this now,” she says, leaning back to remove the motionless owl from her shoulder. She thrusts her arms up toward the stars, and the bird takes off, flying around the two of us in bright spirals of white before ascending up, up and up to claim a place amongst the stars.
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