She came out to the balcony with me, an orange tucked in her hand. She asked me what I’m doing, so I flicked my half-smoked cigarette away and said:
“Just wanted a quiet place to drink my coffee.”
She said nothing about the ashes scattering across the rail that lines the fencing of the balcony. She brushed the ashes away and leaned on the rail, then she began to peel the orange. I took a sip from my coffee and turned away from the party, leaning so far out that I almost wished I’d fall.
She peeled the orange in two perfect halves and handed me one. I took it, held it, and then put down my cup of coffee.
“Whatcha thinking about?”
My shoulders rose at the sound of her voice. She wasn’t eating her half of the orange, either. I stared down at mine, then looked at hers. She turned hers in her hand and picked out a section. It laid between her fingers, almost glowing in the dim lights of the party behind us and the streetlamps below us.
“I’m just sad,” I found myself saying.
She made a sound high in her throat and placed the section of orange in her mouth. She chewed in silence, her jaw moving in a motion that drove me to eat a slice, too. We just sat there, quiet, eating the same orange at the same time.
Once in a while, she made a face. She puckered her lips and squinted her eyes, as though there was a particularly sour part of the orange that I couldn’t taste. When we were done with our orange, placing the final slice into our mouths one after the other, she turned to me and said:
“Sometimes we are just sad. You can’t explain it.”
I chewed on my orange. I chewed it until it was nothing but a tough pulp between my teeth. I drank my coffee and made the same face she did earlier.
“Maybe it can be explained,” I told her.
I looked up at the sky. We couldn’t see the stars, but I knew they were there. Like a memory, or the knowledge of their existence. Yet someone, out there, could see them. We lived under them, under the same stars that arrange themselves every night, and yet we didn’t see it the same way.
Perhaps once we did, but not anymore. Still, the stars were still there. The knowledge of them for me. The existence of them somewhere else.
Behind us, our friends were dancing. I could feel the shape of their voices beneath the low, constant thumping of the music. I knew, without even looking, they were in some other place. 2008 or 2019 or last July.
“It’s a feeling,” she said. “You can’t explain a feeling.”
“Time caused the feeling.”
She wasn’t looking at me. She held the orange skin and flipped it this way and that. I could see the way her hands were trembling. I gave her my pack of cigarettes, but she shook her head. I drank my coffee again.
“In sixty, eighty years’ time, we won’t be here at all.” She took a deep breath, then she placed the orange peel on the rail by her elbow. “There’s no point in being in any other place but here.”
I closed my eyes and felt the night against my skin. On the way home that night, in the car, the night sky loomed above me. She drove under it, just like me, away from the party.
Right here, she stood next to me. Our orange peels so close together. I couldn’t see it in her eyes, but I knew she was here, too.
“What changed?” I asked.
“Nothing. Everything. All at once.” She took the coffee away from me and placed it by her orange peel. “It’s all the same.”
“But nothing is the same.”
“That, too, is the same.”
The coffee in the mug rippled with every beat of the music in the party. Our breathing synchronized with each other. Underneath the same night sky, on the same balcony, behind the same party, we breathed the same air and smelled the same coffee and remnants of the orange. The cup of coffee was destined to be cold. I left it on the balcony.
I kept the orange peel.