Beyond the Horizons

Summary: It's the starry night festival and Popuri's alone with nothing but her thoughts and memories. Or so she thinks. Secret Santa Gift for Fading Butterfly Wings!

Dear Fading Butterfly Wings,

Merry Christmas! I hope wherever you are in the world, you are having/have had a fabulous day! Also, I hope you enjoy this story; I had such a blast writing it so I hope you can feel at least half of that enjoyment reading it.

With a flurry of snowflakes tangling themselves in my hair and clinging to my mascara entwined lashes, I began to miss him (his kisses, his touches, his everything) as I sat shivering on the snow encrusted beach, outside his Snack Shack.

It started slowly at first, a gentle yearning for those chocolate, blazing orbs set on a canvas of copper skin and the unparalleled warmth their gaze held. And then it was the smaller things that caused my heart to ache with each beat; the urge to hear that half exotic, half silken laugh that I'm so sure poets write sonnets about, the desire to see that sparkle in his eyes which I'm positive shines brighter than the city lights he travels to see, the need to lace my fingers through bandanna adorned tresses just to make sure they're still more velvet then hair.

My breath slammed in my clogged up throat and my chest began to heave but for once I didn't let the cries escape me. I opted to pretend. I pretended Kai was coming (he'd be here any second now). He'd leap off the boat, all pearly grins and lips that spun tales of adventures, and the rest of my fantasy caused my palms to tingle and face to blush a sunset shade of pink.

I let the dreams and memories of Kai dance around my mind for awhile or so but there was only so much faux bliss I could inflict on myself before it all just became far too many shades of feeble, pointless, pathetic.

With a barely audible voice I began to speak, "Hey Kai, how's it going a million miles away?"

Talking to myself (Kai) was the one guilty, futile pleasure I allowed. And regardless of how crazy I may look to onlookers, how could you begrudge a girl the one thing keeping her sane?

"It's the starry night festival tonight. I wish you were here" I murmured, a longing lilt traipsing through my tone.

The Starry Night Festival was aptly named. Against a pitch canvas there was millions of glimmering stars smattered across the sky. They sparkled brighter on this night than any other for reasons pinned down to works of the supernatural.

"For the first year ever everyone else has a date. Can you believe it? I'm super happy for everyone. I mean Rick and Karen, talk about a long time coming. I hope their Starry Night is going better than the time Mama forced him and me to spend it together. Did I ever tell you about that? I'll tell you anyway…"

Over candles, a dozen red roses and French champagne Zack had finally asked Mama to the Starry Night Festival. After swift reassurances from Mama that nobody could replace Rod, Rick and I gave our blessing and it was decided Rick and I would spend the night together.

Rick and I were halfway Mama through dinner when he bought up the forbidden 'K' word. Somehow Mama's and Zack's date was Kai's fault because he said to Mama that the flower was an urban legend and now she was moving on from Rod because Kai made her give up faith and to be honest I tuned out after that because I vowed never to listen to anything Rick had to say about Kai.

None the less, volcanic words erupted from my lips that rubbed salt in his emotional wounds.

I screeched at him that at least Kai was coming back, that Kai would never abandon me. I taunted him about Karen and how she would never love a man like my brother.

Oh goddess, I felt so guilty after but it was too late; the damage had been done and I realized as the front door slammed shut that when it comes to Kai blood doesn't necessarily run thicker than water but perhaps it should.

The words I'm going to Karen's echoed around the now empty room, ricocheting of the corners and grating against my ear. There was no excuse for the cruelness of my words about Karen but I realized that when it came to Rick there was nothing he liked better than proving me wrong so perhaps there was a silver lining to otherwise completely dark words.

And prove me wrong he would because of course Karen would love a man as chivalrous, kind and friendly as someone I was (mostly) proud to call my brother.

The moon was painting the beach a glorious silver as it ignited the snow with its metallic sheen and I was mesmerized, enchanted, enthralled by it. It was scene worthy of a fairytale, if only I had Prince Charming. Perhaps I was Sleeping Beauty and this was all a dream (nightmare) and Kai was about to kiss me awake with those expert lips of his…

Drifting out of my spellbound reverie, I managed to sputter the next words through chattering teeth, "I'd been such a little pest but Rick got me back tenfold with the way he treated you so I don't feel as guilty any more. I spent a lot more Starry Nights alone after that. I know it sounds pathetic but Rick and I couldn't be trusted and Mama deserved to spend whatever dwindling Starry Nights she had left with Zack. Speaking of Karen, I should probably tell you about her influence on one of my Starry Nights…"

I hadn't believed Karen when she said Gray was charming. I mean, the man has a heart more rigid than the metals he spends his days welding. Whilst being attractive enough on the eyes his potentially gorgeous face was tainted by his unpleasant and in some instances rude disposition. Azure, almond shaped eyed were forever stormy and narrow and framed by permanently furrowed brows. Lips that concealed a room igniting smile were marred by frowns as taut as a tightrope.

Yet I still found myself drawn to him. Perhaps I was no better than Kai and enjoyed a challenge, the thrill of the chase. Or maybe, it was the fact that despite his flaws he listened, really listened and for someone whose opinions and voice were constantly disregarded it was exactly what I needed. I liked to believe the reason I developed my (tiny, miniscule) crush on him was because of the latter.

The relevance of the above was I spent a good two seasons wooing the man with baked corn and much to me later embarrassment; junk ore. My efforts paid off because he agreed to attend the Starry Night Festival with me despite him harboring (to my later knowledge) feelings for Mary.

With sweaty palms and cheeks stained a few tones too dark we ate dinner, the soundtrack of our evening being my constant babbling. I had been so unbelievably nervous because the words tumbling out of my lips seemed so petty, so inadequate for someone who spent their afternoons in the library, no doubt engaging in intellect fueled conversations.

In the end, my insecurities proved accurate. I should be given more credit because I was far more perceptive than my childish attitude lead people to believe. I noticed how Gray's eyes flickered all over the room, landing everywhere but on me. I saw him try to be surreptitious as he checked his watch every five minutes. I heard his feet tap in impatience when I tried to engage him in a particularly long story.

I didn't bother with dessert despite the afternoon I'd spent preparing it. Instead I said, "This would be about the time when I'd kiss you, but something tells me I'm not the girl you want under your mistletoe." I wandered over to the door and opened it, gesturing with my hand for him to exit.

"Thanks Popuri." He said with traces of guilt evident in his tone. Those too-blue-to-be-real eyes bored into mine with a silent I'm sorry and I made sure to smile extra bright to know that it was completely okay with me.

Sure, I had liked him a little bit but him and Mary were far better suited when I thought about it and who was I to stand in the course of what I hoped was true love?

The rest of that Starry Night was spent hoping that Gray had gone to Mary's and swept the pretty librarian off her feet as well as eating pineapple sorbet, completely oblivious to its implications.

I grappled with my red coat as an icy breeze snaked its way through my goose bump infested body. Shivers wracked my body and tears were clinging to my eyelashes but I was a stubborn girl and as such continued my foolish chatter.

I took a deep breath before continuing, "I always wondered what would have happened if I had made Gray stay especially seeing how curious I'd been about his kisses as well. But don't worry Kai, my lips belong to you know. But I suppose my next Starry Night with Trent wouldn't have happened if he had, so it was probably a good thing. I guess I should tell you about that as well, but promise me you won't get jealous…"

The spring after the Starry Night Festival, Mama's condition worsened to a frightening degree. Her once glowing, rosy face turned a translucent pale. Death was clamping its poisonous fingers around her neck tighter each day, turning her into a ghost both of herself and in appearance. Her fragile, delicate state resulted in double the amount of trips to the Clinic and because of this I became acquainted with Doctor Trent.

The one (and possibly only) thing we had in common was the desire for my Mama to get better and that shared desire sowed a seed that swiftly flourished. When it finally bloomed from a chaste kiss shared on Mother Hill it was something secure and grounded. A relationship based on careful calculations and logic, void of any passion or impulse. At the time I had counted myself extremely lucky and why shouldn't I have? The Doctor was handsome, clever and promised a life of shelter. Trent wouldn't come once a season, murmur sweet nothings into my ear only to leave thirty days later.

Trent was anchored and a haven for when I couldn't handle the burden home life placed on my shoulders and because of that, I loved him. Perhaps I should have realized at the time that my love for him bordered a little too close to the land of platonic. But I was younger then, and the line separating the two was far more blurred.

So, together we spent the Starry Night Festival and it was textbook perfection. He bought me pink cat flowers in a bouquet, garnished with a blue ribbon and served me hot milk for dessert. We spent the evening in easy, comfortable conversation and if someone had dared take a peek they'd simply think we were two good friends sharing the evening together and nothing more.

Our lips never even touched, our hands didn't interlock and his arms didn't bother to try and find my waist and it felt alarming natural.

Yet for some reason that I couldn't quite fathom at the time it didn't bother me. I know now it was because my mind was too preoccupied conjuring images of purple bandannas and kisses that tasted like pineapple snow cones and sea salt. Likewise, I didn't even need to think twice about whose pixie short brunette hair he wanted to tangle his hands through.

I left the Clinic with a smile playing on my strawberry tainted lips as I thought about how utterly adorable Trent and Elli would be if oh one of them would just make a move already.

All Trent needed was a nudge and I had the perfect break up speech that would do the job. After all, I didn't want to tempt the Gods of infidelity, did I?

As I tugged the snowy debris out of my locks I couldn't help but marvel at the way it spilled to the ground like stardust; the moons rays striking the falling snow in such a way that it sparkled, shimmered, shined. It was a rare sight to behold and the delight I got from it made me feel five years old and naïve to the wonders of the world.

"You know, I may as well continue with telling you about my Starry Nights." I couldn't think of anything else to talk about and in Kai's absence I had to do something to warm up my lips, "You'll probably laugh at me when I tell you about the next one…"

I was fumbling clumsily around with fate when it came to my love life in the next year.

I started spending time with Pastor Carter on Sundays and developed a 'school girl' crush on him. I admired his dedication to the Goddess despite her intangibility and mystique. I idealized his wisdom and the way everyone revered his words. He was everything my whimsical, impulsive self wasn't. The yin to my yang, or at least that's what I told myself. Late in the nights I spun tales to myself about how we complimented each other seamlessly, how we were the perfect clash of opposites and he just needed to take off his Goddess smeared lenses to see it.

So of course, when he asked me to spend my Starry Night with Cliff I agreed on the condition I could bring Ann, the fiery red head who happened to be my best friend and on the assumption Carter would be there also. It would be the perfect set up for a double date. Cliff and Ann, Carter and I…

Or at least that's what I had imagined. In reality, Carter spent the evening with the Goddess (metaphorically) and I became a third wheel on Ann and Cliff who were really hitting it off. Excusing myself early, I felt the familiar bubble of joy rush through my veins. In fact this time I berated myself for not seeing the obvious earlier; they were the true tribute to the phrase 'opposites attract'. Ann was easygoing and filled with wanderlust and Cliff was shy but worldly. The chemistry was electrifying and the potential utterly endless.

They were the magic that filled romance novels; Carter was the man that would be written about in Bibles and my story was still being written.

A fact I was perfectly okay with because it was winter, the exact opposite of summer.

The snowflakes twirled around, skimming the edges of the water and meshing with the stars in the horizon. It was a picturesque moment and the sheer beauty that the mix of the snow, sky and stars created was enough to convince anyone and everyone that there was nothing out there more romantic or lovely than this night sky, right here in Mineral Town.

"It seems my Starry Nights are cursed Kai but I don't mind. In a way they all led me to you, so it's more than okay. This is the first Starry Night I've spent without anyone to share the night with in awhile and I guess that's making me miss you heaps. But it's given me time to reflect, so I guess that's a good thing right? That's what Christmas is about after all." I kept waffling because I couldn't bear to hear silence seeing as right now I couldn't imagine anything louder, as ironic as that may seem.

You know those moments in movies when the whole world slows down? Well the moment I saw the outline of a boat dot the star coated horizon that's precisely what happened. Seconds melded into minutes, minutes melded into hours to the point where I was so sure I was just delusional from the cold. After all, I had just spent a solid half an hour talking to myself so being crazy wasn't that far off base.

Yet slowly and surely, it edged closer and closer to the pier and my breath began to tighten in my throat. I tugged my hair, unable to handle the suspense. When it was only a few meters away I got up, brushed off the snow stubbornly stuck on my coat and walked to the pier. I prayed to the Goddess. I crossed my fingers. I scanned the horizon for a shooting star and made a wish regardless of its absence.

Oh please, let it be Kai that walks off that boat.

I clenched my eyes shut, peeking only when I heard the screech of the boat docking. My gaze was met with dancing eyes whose stars looked like they had been plucked straight from the sky above and a smile which was tens time brighter than the moon adorning the horizon.


In a flurry of pink hair I was sprinting across the pier, still unable to believe he wasn't a figment of my imagination. With a resounding thud Kai threw his luggage onto the floor and I hurled myself into his arms, inhaling his half spicy, half sexy scent.

"It's good to see you too Poppy." He murmured into my hair, the ghost of his breath on my ear causing shivers that had nothing to do with the cold. "Merry Christm - "

I cut of his words with my lips and between kisses I managed to ask him the obvious, what on earth are you doing here?"

Pressing his lips on the edge of my mouth he breathed the words, "Well Cliff sent me a letter telling me that if I didn't get my ass down here he wasn't speaking to me ever again, not that he talks much to begin with." My tingling lips curved upwards in a smile but he continued, "And then Gray sent me a letter along the same lines, telling me he'd never buy baked corn from my Snack Shack." Giggles bubbled on my lips but Kai placed a finger on them before speaking once more, "It seems my girlfriend is a little good luck charm in helping others find their soul mates on Christmas because Trent also sent me a letter saying unless I was your date tonight, he would happily let me suffer next time I came to his hospital."

"I may or may not have helped a few people in the love department over the years." I explained, feeling the heat rise up to my cheeks.

"Well, got any advice for me, oh love expert?" Kai asked, tucking a strand of my fairy floss hair behind my ear.

"Yes, be quiet and kiss me."