Episodes VI: Star Charts and Surprises
Zach watched Nova pluck a rose out of the bouquet, spinning it delicately between her nimble fingers.
“What are you thinking?” Zach asked, grabbing a handful of chips out of the bowl.
“Who do you think they’re from?” Nova ventured.
Zach shrugged in response. “Could be anyone honestly.”
“No signature attached. Isn’t that kind of weird?”
“What about it? Anonymous condolences aren’t that unusual,” he quipped, turning around in his chair to face her.
Nova leveled him with a look. She didn’t want to be the one to say it. She would just keep tiptoeing around it, waiting for him to come to the same conclusion, to have the same idea that wouldn’t stop tugging at her mind.
“Just say it,” Zach sighed, pushing the bowl of chips to her.
She put down the rose and grabbed some hesitantly. “They could be from the murderer.”
He didn’t respond for a very long time, instead fixing her with a strange, glazed over stare. Nova’s face burned fiercely as the silence went on. Had she overstepped her boundaries? They were barely friends, united by this odd incident and she didn’t want to make him feel worse than he already did.
“Come with me,” he said abruptly.
“I haven’t given you a house tour yet. It would be a shame for you to miss the wall to ceiling portrait of me that my dad had commissioned on my 6th birthday. Not just anyone gets to see that.”
“Well, how could I possibly say no. Consider my interest piqued,” she teased, standing from her chair and following him out of the kitchen. They went down the carpeted hallway as she marveled silently at the tall ceiling and ancient-looking columns that accompanied it. They stopped at the foot of a spiraling staircase, so seemingly untouched that Nova was afraid to take a step.
Zach turned back to look at her with a sly smile and then took off, not waiting to see if she followed. He knew she would. They stopped on the second floor, and as promised, mounted on the wall was a giant painting of young Zach. He looked mostly the same, except for the little pink overalls he sported and his cheeks, rounder with baby fat.
She couldn't keep herself from turning to face the 18-year-old Zach standing before her now, and trying to match him with the baby version on the wall. It was weird to see the shell of a boy standing next to her. His eyes were bright in the painting, not yet dulled by the death of his father. But he was undeniably handsome now with a sharp jaw and upturned cheekbones, accompanied by short wavy hair. She had the sudden urge to hug him, to help him get the light back in his eyes.
“Glow up of the century right?” he prodded, wiggling his eyebrows.
“I don’t know Zach, those pink overalls are quite a look,” she fired back.
“I think I still have them. Wanna see if they still fit?”
She laughed at the joke, yet she couldn't help but think he might be serious as he led her to the door that very clearly belonged to his room.
He opened the door and looked at her, seeming to say after you. She walked in, and though she was unsure of what to expect, it still shocked her to find a small, humble room with four walls painted light blue. Zach’s bed was mounted in one corner, messily unmade, across from his desk. It was covered with piles and piles of papers and pens and random knick-knacks, completely and utterly disorganized. The most striking part of the room, the only part that let in on any of his wealth, was the left wall. It was made entirely out of glass, like one large window pane. That itself wasn’t the impressive thing, rather what could be seen through it. Nova looked out at the rolling hills behind the many acres of land that the Salman’s owned, and a large glittering pool in the distance.
She was startled, and in an effort to pick just one thing to comment on, she settled on the strange papers pinned up on the wall above his bed.
“What are those?” she asked, pointing to the wall.
“Star charts,” he answered nonchalantly as if this was an entirely normal thing to have pasted above your bed.
“I like the way they look. It reminds me that the universe is infinitely bigger than my problems.”
There it was again, the urge to understand this new Zach, to make herself a part of his life and see what else was hiding beneath his sad demeanor.
“So you’re like, into astronomy? I didn’t have you pegged as a nerd,” she teased.
He smiled softly, leaning against his window-wall. “Surprise.”
“And don’t even get me started on the fish,” she added. She almost missed it, though now upon a second sweep of the room, her eyes were instantly drawn to the large fishbowl, filled with greenish water (that clearly hadn’t been cleaned in a while) that housed one blue fish, swimming about merrily.
“Oh him? That’s Marco. I used to have another one called Polo. I guess the names made more sense when there were two of them. But alas, Marco clearly wasn’t thinking about that when he ate Polo.”
“You’re different than I thought,” Nova said, barely stifling her laugh.
“More handsome? More charming, perhaps?” Zach offered.
Nova rolled her eyes. “I’ll decide that after you put on the overalls.”
Before he could make good on his promise, faintly, as if from somewhere far away, the doorbell rang. The two rushed down the stairs, Nova almost slipping in her socks, as Zach went to open the door. Nova couldn't see who it was, but she saw Zach’s face light with recognition.