“Need a hand?”
Mischief and amusement colored his words as he extended his hand back for me, a welcome sight that broke the monotony of mossy hillside that filled my vision for what felt like the thousandth hour in a row.
We’d only gone a mile or so over what felt like vertical terrain, jogging the entire way as we raced the setting sun. My breath sawed through gritted teeth and I felt the drag of it all the way to my toes. I took his hand, silently cursing the lack of strain on his part in scaling the tiny mountain into the stars.
He tugged, pulling me up alongside him until his hip bumped mine and he grinned down at me. It was meant to be reassuring, I think, but mostly he just looked affectionately smug.
“Not much further, love. You going to make it?” Amusement and affection laced his voice.
I glared at him. When his grin only grew broader, I caved. I found him utterly irresistible in every circumstance and I blamed my lack of resistance to his charm when my glare dissolved into an answering grin. I shook my head, dismayed but so utterly in love with him that I struggled to care.
His gaze softened, holding mine as the sun continued to sink below the rolling verdant hills. We were almost there, and likely high enough for what we wanted to see. The blaze of evening sun was somehow soft and fierce as it set the sky aglow.
I kept my eyes on the horizon, glowing a deep gold now as the sky above began to shift from bronze to gray. The watercolor sunset was a sight to see, but it wasn’t what we came for.
The promise of a velvet night and a sky full of stars over the ridges and rolling hills of the island coast was what we’d come for. I asked for stars and he promised to deliver. So here we were. Hiking the endless mountain, teetering on utter annoyance and anticipation.
He was right, there wasn’t much further to go. Before I could finish reminding myself how worth it the view was going to be, it took my breath anew. The ache in my thighs from navigating the soft ground and sharp incline seemed to dull as we created the hilltop and the valleys and neighboring peaks were bathed in the last licks of evening sun.
It set as we settled. He pulled me into his lap atop a rock, angling our bodies toward the clearest view of a rapidly darkening sky. I melted into him, my head falling back against one broad shoulder. His arms settled around my waist, lips pressing against my jaw briefly as he dipped his chin into the hollow of my shoulder.
I could have waited like this forever, or at least for the night. Patience and contentment blanketed me in a way I so rarely felt in life. My curves against his edges was exactly where I wanted to be, where I needed to be.
Between every breath, now matched in time with his, the sky shifted just a little further from the slate post-sunset glow toward the deep velvet of full night. The stars came out, muted at first but as the world pitched into darkness, they shone in stark relief.
When I caught sight of the first shooting star, my breath caught.
When the second streaked across the inky sky, I gasped.
His arms tensed around me and I felt him smile into my hair as he pressed a kiss to the top of my head.
“Surprise,” his voice was low, the heat of it caressing my ear as he spoke the word directly against my skin, “There’s a meteor shower tonight.”
Tears sprang to my eyes, one falling before I could stop it as I turned. I moved away from him but only to meet his gaze and let my gratitude and shock show in my eyes.
He grinned, looking equal parts proud of himself and excited.
I threw my arms around his neck, whispering a mantra of “thank you” against his skin between peppered kisses as he stood. He lifted me then, turning so I could still see the stars, falling at an increasing pace, over his shoulder as he held me.
Some time passed in silent wonderment as we stood, each of us focused on the magic of the night around us. Without making the conscious choice to, we began swaying in the starlight.
To the soundtrack of our heartbeats and the quiet of the wind, we danced under falling stars. In the dim light, the vibrant landscape was cast in striking monochrome contrast.
As if he heard my thoughts, he spoke.
“Somehow, even in a grayscale world, I can still see all your gorgeous colors.”
His lips brushed mine softly, the kiss so tender that my knees buckled. His arm tightened around my waist, holding me in place against him as he continued, “The entire world could be out of focus,painted in black and white. But you will always be crystal clear to me.”
I looked up at him, speechless at his tenderness, but he wasn’t speechless and he wasn’t done talking.
One arm unwound from around my waist as he took a step back and nodded vaguely toward the show that continued on all around us. I was caught between the wonder of standing atop a hill in a veritable snowglobe of celestial proportions and the wonder of the man in front of me.
“Look at the stars, love. Do you see them all?”
I looked out across the horizon, giving the stars my full attention as I nodded.
“We’ve come so far from those doorstep kisses we started with. Did you ever think we’d end up here?”
I shook my head, confusion beginning to stir in the back of my mind, but it was a distant third to the wonder of the things I was seeing and hearing.
“I didn’t either, if I’m honest.But here we are. Here you are. And there is nowhere else I want to be. Well….” he trailed off, taking a ragged breath and for the first time I noted the rapid flutter of his pulse as he stepped away from me. I reached for him, immediately feeling the loss of his touch as I always did. But he merely reached into his coat pocket briefly before pulling me against him once more.
“There is nowhere else I want to be,” he repeats, “And no one else I want to be here with. There will never be anyone for me but you.”
Once more, he withdrew the hand at my waist and opened it, palm up and shaking.
The breath in my lungs stilled as my heart began to pound at the tenderness, intention in his words and what lay in his hand.
“The way you love me left me with no choice but to give that same love back to you. Not that I’d ever choose differently. I’d choose you a thousand times over and nothing else. I promise to love you for the rest of my life, if you’ll have me.”
In the starlight, the shimmer of a gem caught and so did my breath. I met his eyes, speechless for the most part.
Except for the one word that mattered most.
The only one in my mind or my heart.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Yes?” he echoed as he reached for the ring he held.
“Yes.” Stronger this time, louder, as the grin began to creep across my face and tears gathered once more in my eyes.
All around us, the stars continued to shimmer and fall as he slipped the starlit magic he held onto my finger. With wonder and tears in his eyes, he kissed my knuckle just above the ring that now marked me as his before pulling me into him.
He hugged me, and I held him right back.
“I make no promises,” I said softly, “beyond this one.”
His eyes met mine.
“I promise that I’ll love you for the rest of my life.”
I echoed his words back to him, and then I kissed him. Among the stars, the sky and the entire world, there was nothing but us.
Even as time slowed, we continued to dance and the stars continued to fall.