Counting the Stars
CHAPTER
24
Epilogue
Their names are Jacob Whitman and Ruby Theresa Scott, and for the most part, everyone says their names the same way.
In the yearbook, on the page labeled “cutest couple,” is a picture of the two of them on prom night, doubled over with laughter and not paying any mind to the camera. When people point to the picture they say, with a happy sigh and only a little bit of jealousy, “That’s Ruby-and-Jacob, they’re the cutest couple in the world.”
Ruby-and-Jacob, that’s what most people call them. Some might jokingly say Juby, but whatever the case, their names are always said with a happy sigh.
There are exceptions, of course. Jett Wayview and Shannon Kelheart, for example, say their names with bitterness, loathing, and regret. Ruby-and-Jacob’s friends say their name with a teasing tone. “Ruby-and-Jacob are so romantic I want to puke.”
The only exception that really matters, though, is the way they say each other’s names.
The sky is cloudless, the new moon completely invisible, yet only a few stars dot the sky as a long line of high school seniors climb the hill to their soon-to-be alma mater. The night is warm, the air filled with fireflies and hushed laughter. Summer is just around the corner, and with it, the tantalizing thrill of graduation. For tonight, however, the students are still bound together, still a team that’s been through everything together since kindergarten.
Leading the crowd, hand in hand, Ruby and Jacob push the first ladder against the side of Wayview High. Dozens of other students follow suit, propping up their ladders beside the first before beginning their climb up.
Ruby, as the one who came up with this plan, places herself in charge of making sure all people, pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, and stuffed animals make it onto the room quickly and safely.
“I’m glad you came out of retirement to pull off one last prank,” Jacob says when the two of them finally step onto the ladders.
“I had to,” Ruby says. “They were going to put boxes of cereal in the sinks. I can’t be a part of the graduating class with the world’s worst senior prank.”
“The irony, though,” comes a voice from above them. Brad, one of Jacob’s friends from the basketball team, holds his hand out to help Ruby onto the roof. Smiling gratefully, Ruby takes it and climbs up.
“You know, as far as Ruby Scott pranks go, this one’s kind of tame,” Jacob chimes. Brad offers him a second hand and Jacob happily takes it. He feels the scars on his back stretch as he reaches up, but he’s used to it, now. “We’re just napping on the roof. Are you sure there isn’t a bigger surprise planned?”
“I’m sure,” Ruby says. Brad walks away to rejoin his friends as Ruby and Jacob move to find a spot somewhere on the roof.
The couple ends up near the greenhouse, the smell of flowers in full bloom wafting through the open panel in the roof. Behind them, the graduating class is setting out their sleeping bags and pillows and laughing quietly. Nik’s telling a story with exaggerated hand gestures, prompting around of laughter from the basketball team, the cheerleading team, and the robotics team.
“This was a great idea, Ruby,” Jacob says. “You’re amazing.”
Ruby smiles softly and places a quick peck on his lips. “I love you.”
Jacob grins widely. “I know.”
“Oh my god, it’s been, like, months, can you stop quoting Han Solo at me? Please?” Ruby groans, pushing him away from her.
Jacob snickers and pulls her closer. “I’m sorry, but no,” he says, wrapping his arms around her waist. “But I love you, too.”
They’re interrupted by a chorus of “awwwww”s from the entire senior class. Ruby snorts.
“So, I hope you’re ‘I don’t want to do something too big’ policy doesn’t extend to ‘I don’t want anyone else to do something big,’” Jacob says, ignoring the kissy faces and “Jacob and Ruby sitting in a tree,” chants.
Ruby narrows her eyes. “Why?”
Nervous, Jacob gulps and glances away. “Um...”
He’s cut off by a sudden shout of surprise. The blue-haired-girl—now the pink-haired-girl—is pointing down the hill at their town. “Look!”
The entire town, visible from the student’s perch on top of the school, is slowly flickering out, entire blocks going dark until the only the light of the stars are visible.
“So, uh...” Jacob rubs the back of his neck. “Surprise? I made sure the hospital and people like your sister would be fine, everyone has generators, but–”
“You did this?” Ruby asks incredulously.
“Well, Kellan and Mike did, after I figured out how and then bribed them to do it,” Jacob says. “I had to pay Kellan because she had to spend time with Mike.”
“But why?” Ruby asks.
Jacob bites his lip, a laugh twinkling in his eyes, and points up.
Ruby gasps.
“Fun bonus of living in a small town in the middle of nowhere,” Jacob says. “Turn off all the lights and you can see thousands of stars.”
Gradually, as everyone’s panic subsides, students start to realize the sight they have visible before them.
More stars than anyone has ever seen in their life, no longer drowned out by artificial light or the reflection of the moon, covered the sky in a breathtaking tapestry of dark and light. One by one, everyone falls silent, utterly captivated by the twinkling, shimmering stars.
Smiling triumphantly, Jacob nudges his girlfriend’s shoulder. “So, what do you th–”
“SHH.”
He blinks. “Ruby–Ruby, are you counting them?”
“SHHH!”
“Ruby!” Startled, Jacob laughs breathlessly. “Ruby, you can’t count all of them!”
“Shut up!
Smiling softly, Jacob gives her another gentle nudge. Voice warm with adoration and amusement, he says, “Ruby Theresa Scott.”
At the sound of her full name, Ruby finally turns, a questioning smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “Jacob Whitman.”
She says his name with amusement, with warmth and kindness and a sense of friendly teasing. But beneath all that is something else, something purely Jacob-and-Ruby, Ruby-and-Jacob.
Most people may say their names the same way, but it’s only how they say it that matters.
And, well. There’s a lot of ways to describe how they say it, and interesting is definitely at the top of the list.
The End
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